Stress Fracture

A stress fracture is a hairline crack in a bone that is less severe than a complete fracture because it does not produce a full separation between bone fragments. The condition particularly affects runners and participants in other branches of athletics. If left untreated the injury can become a complete and thus more serious fracture.


Pain will be present in the injured bone, especially during physical activity. However the source may not be immediately identifiable to the sufferer, with the pain occurring in a wider area around the injury. Tenderness and swelling are common. If the fracture is in the foot or leg, where the injury strikes the most, then running or walking will result in intense pain at the beginning and end of the exercise.


Great stress on a bone over time is the primary cause of this injury. This is associated with athletics due to the repetitive, high-impact nature of activities such as sprinting and jumping. The fracture appears gradually as part of the bone becomes weakened to the extent that it cannot repair itself. None of the impacts contributing to the fracture are enough to break the bone, but their incremental effect produces the small fracture. This can also occur as a result of a sudden increase in training, as the bones are unaccustomed to such pressure, or due to fatigued muscles which no longer absorb a sufficient amount of an impact to fully protect the bone.


If you are experiencing considerable pain during activity and suspect a stress fracture, you should begin to rest the bone, generally for a period of 6 to 8 weeks though this varies from case to case. This may include limiting daily activities that are liable to place stress on the affected area.

Consult a doctor for a thorough diagnosis, and they will advise on a specific program of relaxation and rehabilitation. Due to the relatively minor nature of stress fractures, an x-ray will often not be able to pick up on the injury straightaway but a medical professional can identify the condition from your symptoms. They may recommend the use of walking aids such as crutches, which can be beneficial both in limiting pain and preventing any worsening of the fracture. In severe cases a plaster cast may be fitted around the limb.


When the fracture has healed sufficiently you should begin a careful and informed program of stretching and strengthening the muscles around the injury in order to lessen the force placed on the bone during strenuous activity. In the legs it is particularly important to strengthen the hamstring, quadriceps and calf muscles, and your doctor can offer advice on this. To accustom your bones to greater stress, gradually increase your exercise by responsible amounts. This will help to avoid further stress fractures by conditioning them to endure more pressure. Always make sure that your footwear is appropriate for your activities and not worn out; it is estimated that runners’ shoes should be changed after 500 miles.

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