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What is a stress fracture?

A stress fracture occurs when there is a tiny break or tiny crack in the bone and normally occurs with an overuse injury, such as running long distances or repeatedly jumping up and down.  A stress fracture can also occur form normal wear and tear of a bone that has been weakened by a condition, for example osteoporosis.  It can also often be an overuse injury and can be common in runners and high impact sports.

It is much more common to have a stress fracture in the lower part of your limbs such as your lower leg and feet and anyone can sustain a stress fracture. 

What are the symptoms of a stress fracture

  • You will feel a pain that gradually gets worse as time goes on
  • You will have a localised tenderness that gets better when you rest it
  • You may have some swelling around the area
  • You may have some bruising to the localised area

Risk factors associated with stress fractures

There are various factors that can increase your risk of a stress fracture:

  • Activity – stress fractures can occur in people who suddenly change from a sedentary lifestyle to an active one, or someone who rapidly increases the duration and intensity of their training sessions.
  • What sex you are – women are more likely to develop a stress fracture than men, especially those with abnormal menstrual cycles.
  • Specific sports – a stress fracture is more common in people who do high impact sports, such as dancing, gymnastics, running, and tennis.
  • Foot problems – if you have flat feet, or high arches, you are more likely to develop a stress fracture.  Proper footwear can help alleviate this.
  • Previous injury – if you have had a previous injury or stress fracture before, you will be at a higher risk of a recurring one.
  • Diet – eating a healthy and well-balanced diet can help alleviate developing a stress fracture.  Eating disorders and a lack of vitamin D will put you at higher risk
  • Weak bones – if you already suffer from bone conditions such as osteoporosis, you will be more at risk of developing a stress fracture.

How to help prevent a stress fracture

Prevention is always better than cure and there are some simple steps to help you:

  • Footwear – wearing the right footwear is vital, and if you suffer from flat feet, ensure arch supports are used
  • Diet – to keep healthy bones strong, ensure your diet consists of vitamin D and calcium daily
  • Cross-train – ensure you add low impact activities to your exercise programme to avoid repetitively stressing a particular part of your body which can cause a stress fracture
  • Make your changes slow – when starting any new exercise programme, ensure this is done gradually, and increase the amount you exercise slowly for the first few weeks

How is a stress fracture diagnosed

When seeing your doctor for the first time they will give you a full examination, look at how you walk, ask you when the pain started, and take a full medical history.  They may also refer you to have an Xray and an MRI scan which will be the best way to fully diagnosis a stress fracture.

How do you recover from a stress fracture

Treatment will depend on varying factors but reducing the bone’s weight bearing load will probably be the first treatment that they ask you to do, and by wearing a walking boot or using crutches will help immensely.

Surgery is very unusual, but sometimes necessary to ensure a full and complete recovery and your doctor will advise you on the best road to your recovery once all imaging has been done.

Once your fracture has healed it is very important to start a physiotherapy programme that will help release any stiff joints or muscles and help start to restrengthen the foot if it has been immobilised in a boot or cast.

Giving yourself time to heal is key, it can take several weeks, and some injuries can take several months.

Rest – stay off the affected limb for as long as your doctor recommends, using crutches so you can non-weight bear or partial weight bear.

Iceice will help reduce the swelling and help with your pain too.  Your doctor may recommend that you ice it several times throughout the day for a few weeks.

Back to activity slowly – Once you have been given the all clear from your doctor, going slow is key to your recovery, starting off with non-weight bearing activities like swimming or cycling, and resuming your weight bearing activities gradually over time and distance.

Call Home Physio Group to learn how our physiotherapists can help with your stress fracture on 020 7096 0684

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  • All our physiotherapists are hand-picked professionals with years of experience
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