A stress fracture in your foot might not announce itself with much fanfare. When we think about broken bones, we tend to think about major fractures and the immediate, intense pain that can accompany them. But stress fractures—which are tiny cracks in a bone—are not necessarily all that painful in the early going.
In fact, the first thing you might notice if you have a stress fracture in your foot is some tenderness in a specific spot. Generally, that tenderness will subside when you rest but will flare up with exercise. You may also notice some swelling in the part of your foot that hurts. Over time, the pain will worsen and may continue even when you are resting.
You may be wondering how you would end up with a stress fracture in the first place. Let’s look at the causes and risk factors.
Chief Cause of Stress Fractures? Repetitive Force
Stress fractures often develop as a result of repetitive force experienced by the legs and feet. For example, track and field athletes are susceptible to stress fractures because of ongoing training and competition. But you don’t have to be an athlete to find yourself with a stress fracture. Any kind of overuse or sudden increases in activity related to the feet can lead to a stress fracture. Those with conditions such as osteoporosis that weaken bones are also at risk for fractures of this kind.
In addition to athletic endeavors, sudden increases in activity, and weakened bones, the risk factors for stress fractures are varied. They include:
- Poor nutrition. Vitamin D and calcium are important to maintaining bone strength and should be part of your diet.
- Other foot issues. Flat feet or high arches are both associated with stress fractures, especially in cases in which improper or broken down footwear is worn regularly.
- Being a woman. Women are at a higher risk for stress fractures, especially in cases in which their menstrual periods are abnormal or absent.
- A history of stress fractures. Unfortunately, having one stress fracture increases your risk of having additional fractures.
The Importance of Imaging Tests
If you have a history of stress fractures, your physician may be able to diagnosis a new fracture based on a physical exam and a consideration of your medical history. But as a rule, an imaging test of one kind or another will be needed in order for your doctor to make a conclusive diagnosis.
The best option is likely an MRI—magnetic resonance imaging. Employing radio waves and a strong magnetic field, MRIs provide detailed images of soft tissue and bones. This allows your physician to determine whether the pain you are experiencing is related to an injury to your soft tissue or to a stress fracture. An MRI can reveal stress injuries well before those injuries would be apparent in an X-ray.
In some cases, an X-ray or a bone scan might help determine whether you are struggling with a stress fracture or a different issue. But generally speaking, an MRI will provide the best images for your doctor to examine.
Reduce the Load to Promote Healing
In order to give your bone the time it needs to heal from a stress fracture, it will be important to lessen the weight-bearing load on the bone in question. In many cases, that means using crutches or wearing a walking boot or brace. In rare cases, surgery may be an appropriate solution, but much more frequently, a stress fracture should be allowed to heal over time before you return to activities that require your affected foot to bear weight.
We Can Take the Stress Out of Stress Fractures
At InStride Carolina Podiatry Group, we have the expertise and experience to identify and treat the full range of foot and ankle issues you may be dealing with—including stress fractures. Our goal is to get you back to enjoying your regular activities as safely and as quickly as possible. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you find solutions for foot and ankle issues.