Unlike standard fractures which typically occur from impact and occur instantly, stress fractures are small, hairline cracks that develop over time. They commonly affect the long bones of the feet (metatarsals), the shin bone (tibia). As the symptoms progressively worsen, you may initially feel only a niggle or dull ache, which over time may turn to severe pain.
How did I develop a stress fracture?
There is only so much force or tension that a bone can safely handle before damage occurs. When a bone is placed under high stress repetitively over time, small cracks can form. As the pressure on the bone continues, the cracks can grow and worsen, thereby worsening the symptoms. The high pressure on a bone can be caused by:
- Regularly increasing your physical activity duration or intensity
- High-impact activities, e.g. running
- Your foot posture or lower limb alignment
- Wearing shoes that don’t adequately support your foot and arch
- Working long hours on hard surfaces
- Increased body weight, as well as increased training weights at the gym
- Decreased bone density
What does a stress fracture feel like?
Initially, you may feel nothing more than a dull ache or a niggle. As the symptoms come on gradually and aren’t immediately linked to a particular ‘cause’ or event that triggered the pain, these symptoms are often overlooked until they worsen. You may feel:
- Mild to severe pain
- Tenderness around the area
- Pain when walking or putting stress on the affected bone
- The severity of the pain reducing when you’re not on your feet (though a dull ache may often
Sounds painful. How are stress fractures treated?
Diagnosing and treating your stress fracture early can save you a lot of pain and discomfort, compared to managing it after the injury has worsened. Initially, we will help reduce your painful symptoms and promote bone repair and healing. Following this, we work to address the causes of the stress fracture, to reduce the likelihood of the stress fracture recurring in the future.
To assess the severity of the fracture and confirm the diagnosis, we will refer you for an x-ray. Your recovery may include orthotics where the pressure was being added to by your foot posture, footwear modifications, changes to your regular activities, and a stretching and strengthening programme where tight or weak muscles have played a part in your stress fracture. If the fracture is severe, we may use an off-loading device like a moon boot.
We also ensure that you’re equipped with the tools and knowledge to help you make the best decisions to look after your foot and leg health, long after your treatment with us.