Patient Education

To help you understand and navigate through your orthopedic health decisions, we have created a patient education section. Please select from one of the categories below to learn more about your condition or procedure.
Stress Fractures

A stress fracture is a small crack or severe bruising within a bone, typically caused by repetitive force or overuse, often seen in athletes and military recruits. Unlike acute fractures caused by a single, sudden impact, stress fractures develop over time due to repetitive activity or excessive load on the bones.

Common Symptoms

  • Localized Pain: Pain that intensifies during weight-bearing activities and diminishes with rest.
  • Swelling: Mild to moderate swelling around the affected area.
  • Tenderness: Pain when touching the affected area.
  • Bruising: Occasionally, bruising around the site of the fracture.
  • Pain at Night: Pain may persist or worsen at night.

Cause & Anatomy

  • Repetitive Activities: High-impact sports such as running, basketball, and gymnastics.
  • Sudden Increase in Activity: Rapid increase in the intensity, duration, or frequency of physical activity.
  • Improper Footwear: Wearing worn-out or inappropriate shoes that do not provide adequate support.
  • Poor Technique: Incorrect form during exercise or sports.
  • Weak Bones: Conditions like osteoporosis can increase the risk of stress fractures.

Anatomy

  • Stress fractures commonly occur in weight-bearing bones, including:
  • Metatarsals: Bones in the foot, particularly the second and third metatarsals.
  • Tibia: Shinbone.
  • Femur: Thighbone.
  • Pelvis: Hip bones.
  • Navicular: Bone in the midfoot.

Diagnosis

Medical History and Physical Examination: Evaluation of symptoms, physical activity level, and palpation of the affected area to identify tenderness and pain.

Imaging Tests:

  • X-rays: May not show stress fractures immediately but can detect them as they heal.
  • Bone Scan: A more sensitive test that can detect stress fractures earlier than X-rays.
  • MRI: Magnetic resonance imaging is highly effective in identifying stress fractures and soft tissue injuries.

Prevention

  • Gradual Increase in Activity: Increase the intensity, duration, and frequency of physical activity gradually.
  • Proper Footwear: Wear well-fitting, supportive shoes appropriate for the activity.
  • Cross-Training: Incorporate a variety of activities to avoid repetitive stress on the same bones and muscles.
  • Strength and Flexibility Training: Strengthen muscles to support bones and improve flexibility.
  • Nutrition: Ensure adequate intake of calcium and vitamin D to maintain bone health.

Treatment

Immediate Care

  • Rest: Avoid weight-bearing activities to prevent further stress on the fracture.
  • Ice: Apply ice packs to the affected area to reduce pain and swelling.
  • Protective Footwear: Use supportive shoes or orthotic inserts to alleviate stress on the fracture site.
  • Modified Activities: Switch to low-impact activities like swimming or cycling to maintain fitness without stressing the fracture.

Medications

  • Pain Relievers: Over-the-counter pain medications such as acetaminophen or NSAIDs (e.g., ibuprofen) to alleviate pain and inflammation.

Medical Intervention

  • Immobilization: In some cases, wearing a brace, walking boot, or cast may be necessary to keep the bone immobilized and allow healing.
  • Surgery: Rarely, surgery may be required for severe stress fractures that do not heal with conservative treatment. This may involve inserting pins, screws, or plates to stabilize the bone.

Recovery

  • Healing Time: Typically, stress fractures take 6-8 weeks to heal, but recovery time can vary depending on the severity and location of the fracture.
  • Gradual Return to Activity: Gradually reintroduce physical activities under the guidance of a healthcare provider to prevent re-injury.
  • Physical Therapy: May be recommended to strengthen muscles, improve flexibility, and ensure proper technique.

FAQ’s

How can I differentiate between a stress fracture and a muscle strain?
Stress fractures typically cause localized pain that worsens with weight-bearing activities and diminishes with rest, whereas muscle strains often involve muscle pain, swelling, and bruising, with pain during muscle use.

Can I continue exercising with a stress fracture?
It’s crucial to rest and avoid weight-bearing activities to allow the stress fracture to heal. Low-impact activities that do not stress the fracture site may be permissible under a healthcare provider’s guidance.

How can I prevent stress fractures?
Gradually increase physical activity, wear proper footwear, cross-train to avoid repetitive stress, maintain strength and flexibility, and ensure adequate nutrition for bone health.

What should I do if I suspect I have a stress fracture?
Rest and avoid activities that cause pain, apply ice to reduce swelling, and consult a healthcare provider for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment.

How long does it take to recover from a stress fracture?
Recovery typically takes 6-8 weeks, but it can vary depending on the location and severity of the fracture. Gradual return to activity under medical supervision is essential to prevent re-injury.

To schedule an appointment:

To speak with a medical professional, call: