Not every broken bone is the result of a massive collision or traumatic impact. Sometimes, it’s the little things that add up. That’s certainly the case with stress fractures.
Like pavement cracking and buckling after years of stress from road traffic, stress fractures are small cracks that develop within bones due to repetitive weight, impacts, and pressure. Although technically any bone could develop stress fractures, they are particularly common in load-bearing areas of the feet, such as the metatarsal bones of the midfoot.
Stress fractures tend to cause pain and tenderness that worsen with time, and can persist indefinitely (or develop into more serious fractures) if you don’t take steps to correct them. Fortunately, we can help.
What Causes Stress Fractures?
Under normal circumstances, weight and impact forces are distributed across your feet and its various muscles, soft tissues, and bones. This causes “micro-damage” to the bone tissue, which sounds bad but is a completely normal result of everyday activity. Your body deals with it through a process called bone remodeling, which removes weakened portions of old bone from the skeleton and replaces it with new, healthy, strong bone tissue.
The problem occurs when force loads become too significant or increase too rapidly—faster than the body can recover—and you don’t give yourself enough time to rest in the meantime. Soft tissues wear down, and more force gets transferred directly to bones. Over time, the bones themselves begin to weaken and crack.
Common stress fracture contributing factors include:
- Participation in high-impact sports and activities like running, basketball, tennis, dance, gymnastics, track, etc.
- Rapidly increasing the intensity of your training regimen in a short period of time.
- A sudden change in sport or surface, such as switching from trail running to concrete.
- Improper equipment use, particularly poor or ill-fitting shoes.
- Having weakened bones due to poor nutrition, eating disorders, or conditions such as osteoporosis.
- Structural issues with foot bones, or biomechanical issues with your walking or running gait.
How Are Stress Fractures Treated?
In most cases, the only treatment for stress fractures that is absolutely required is rest—usually six to eight weeks of it. A majority of stress fractures will heal on their own in time, but in order for that to work you need to stop all high-impact activity for as long as it takes to heal. Re-starting activity too quickly can not only undo all the healing that has already taken place, but actually make the cracks worse. If necessary, we may recommend a walking boot, brace, or crutches to keep weight off the healing bones.
That being said, two months of limited activity isn’t always a realistic option for those whose jobs require them to active and on their feet, or for athletes unwilling to miss so much time from training and competition. In these situations, more active treatment remedies such as MLS laser therapy, shockwave therapy, or in rare cases surgery might be considered. Furthermore, it is likely that cushioned inserts or custom orthotics inside shoes will reduce stress on feet and help prevent future stress fractures.
Stress fractures will only get worse with time if you don’t treat them, so don’t try to push through the pain. If your feet are hurting, make an appointment with Dr. Tom Truong and the team at the Kansas Foot Center for a consultation and effective treatment options. You can reach us at (866) 222-5177.