March 6, 2017

What is a stress fracture?

Hand, Wrist and Elbow | Knee | Sports Injury | Urgent Care


A stress fracture is an overuse injury and a relatively common sports injury.


Most stress fractures happen in the weight bearing bones of the lower leg and foot: tibia, femur and metatarsals. They can occur when muscles become tired and are unable to absorb added shock. Over time, the tired muscle transfers the overload of stress to the bone causing a tiny crack. They can also occur because of improper bone nutrition, such as lack of calcium and vitamin D.

What causes a stress fracture?

  • Level of activity increased too rapidly
  • Using improper equipment when exercising
  • Increasing physical demands on your body
  • Not resting between exercises
  • Overuse

Pain with activity that lessens with rest is the most common symptom of a stress fracture.

How is a stress fracture diagnosed?

Your physician will ask you for a complete medical history, have you describe your symptoms and how the injury occurred, and conduct a physical examination. An X-ray, MRI or bone scan may be necessary to confirm the diagnosis or rule out other problems.

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How is a stress fracture treated?

Nonsurgical treatment

Rest from the activity that caused the fracture is the most important treatment. Most injuries will heal in six to eight weeks. However, if the activity that caused the stress fracture is resumed too soon, larger fractures can develop, which can lead to chronic problems where the injury might never heal properly. Shoe inserts or braces may also help during the healing process.

Surgical treatment

Surgery may be necessary if the bone has become so weak that there is a chance a displaced fracture (bones breaking into separate pieces) could occur.

How do you prevent a stress fracture?

  • Set incremental goals and gradually build up resistance
  • Alternate activities instead of performing the same exercise everyday
  • Maintain a healthy diet
  • Use proper equipment
  • If pain or swelling occurs, immediately stop the activity and rest for a few days

Learn more about sports medicine treatment at OrthoIndy.
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