Stress Fractures

If you have made the decision to start running, walking, or increasing your level of physical activity in general, that’s great! Taking the initiative to exercise more or pursue new personal bests is a great way to yield physical and emotional benefits – if you conduct yourself properly.

Anyone who is starting out with exercise or increasing their intensity level needs to be mindful of what they are putting their body through. Doing too much, too soon, can result in a number of sports injuries, including the one we will be focusing on here: stress fractures.

We have seen many ambitious patients come in suffering from foot pain that increases while they work out. It’s understandably demoralizing to have it happen, and we hate to see it. We’d always rather have you moving freely!

The good news is that you can often make changes in your routines to prevent stress fractures. And if you suspect you currently have a stress fracture, see us right away for proper treatment. We’ll help you get back to action and in full strength as quickly and as safely as possible.

What is a Stress Fracture?

A stress fracture is a break in your bone, somewhat similar to what you would expect from a “standard” broken bone. However, instead of the crack occurring through the bone, often separating it into more than one piece, a stress fracture is a hairline crack that occurs only along the surface of the bone.

A stress fracture can occur at many points along the foot, including the heel and along the inside of the arch (the navicular bone). But most commonly, stress fractures occur along the bones in the forefoot, at the base of the toes (the metatarsals).

Symptoms of a stress fracture can include:

  • Pain and tenderness at the site of the injury​
  • Pain that begins or increased during physical activity and decreases upon rest (although pain can be present during less intense activities as well)
  • Swelling
  • Increased pain when bearing more weight on the affected foot 

Stress Fracture

Why Do Stress Fractures Happen?

Stress fractures are often the result of an overuse injury. In other words, the bone was made to endure more stress than it was conditioned to handle. With stress fractures, that overload of stress tends to happen through repetitive impacts over time.

When we place stress on our bones, it breaks them down on a cellular level. Under normal circumstances, this is actually a good thing! When we rest, our bodies rebuild stronger and more able to endure the forces we’ve put on them. That’s how we become more fit.

But if too much force is placed on a bone over too much time, without providing proper time for rest, the body is unable to recover fast enough to outpace the breakdown. The bone weakens, and eventually a stress fracture can form.

Overuse in itself might not be the only contributing factor toward a stress fracture. Additional elements such as improper technique, changing your running/playing track to a harder surface, wearing footwear poorly suited to your activity, or having a structural abnormality in your feet can also increase your risk.

Treating a Stress Fracture

If you’re experiencing persistent foot pain while running – or with any other activity, for that matter – it’s time to schedule an appointment with us.

Such problems are very much worth addressing sooner than later, and you absolutely do not want to ignore them. If you do have a stress fracture, continuing to run and bear weight on it without treatment is only going to make it worse. You wouldn’t walk on cracked, thin ice, and you don’t want to keep putting excess pressure on a stress fracture, either.

Yes, that means you should rest. Put a stop to any activities that may contribute to your injury – at least for now. We know that can be disappointing, but you’re much more assured of getting back to doing what you love sooner if you take the time to take care of yourself now. You can greatly reduce your risk of developing even worse problems as well.

When you come to see us, Dr. Danciger will conduct a thorough examination of the injured area, as well as review with you all the factors that may have contributed to the injury. Questions may include when the pain started to develop, when it is at its worst, and what type of shoes you use, among others. (In fact, bring those shoes in, if you can!)

We might also have to request an imaging test in some cases, just to make sure we know the exact location of the fracture or to rule out other conditions.

Once we have a full understanding of the situation, we can recommend a treatment plan to aid in your recovery. Each plan may differ depending on a patient’s needs, but can include:

  • Rest (it will always include rest, usually from 2-8 weeks)
  • Regularly icing and/or elevating the affected foot
  • Using protective footwear, such as a walking boot or a stiff-soled shoe
  • Changes to workout routines or activity levels
  • Switching to more accommodating footwearTaking anti-inflammatory medications​
  • MLS laser therapy to help reduce pain and accelerate recovery

Having to rest and recover rarely means you will be fully out of commission. We can help you build a lower-impact exercise plan that can keep you moving without risking further damage, and eventually ease you back into full activity.

It’s Time to Take a Break

Remember: persistent foot or ankle pain during running or any other type of activity should be your cue to stop and seek treatment. “Pushing through” stress fractures and other sports injuries rarely leads to anything except even more severe and longer-lasting pain. 

Schedule an appointment at our Palm Desert office by calling (760) 568-0108 or by filling out our online contact form.

 

Dr. Harvey Danciger
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Dr. Harvey Danciger is a podiatrist and foot surgeon in Palm Desert, CA specializing in the foot and ankle
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