Everyone gets stressed once in a while. To overcome stress we do things like relax in the bath, go out and exercise, or have a drink with friends, but some types of stress are harder to get over than that, particularly when it comes to stress fractures.
A stress fracture is exactly what it sounds like, a small crack in your bone due to overuse or repetitive strain on a single spot. When it comes to your feet, the people most at risk for stress fractures are athletes. Running, jumping, or kicking a ball around can all lead to recurring pressure on the feet and legs. Imagine hitting a rock lightly with a hammer. One or two hits may not do much, but over time you can make a pretty serious dent in that rock. That is the same scenario for a stress fracture.
Many of you athletes out there may be thinking, “but I’ve been doing (insert activity here) for a long time and never experienced a stress fracture.” That’s true, most athletes will never have a stress fracture, because there is usually enough rest between activities to allow any inflammation or pressure to subside. But you still want to be cautious and learn to spot the signs of a stress fracture.
The most common sign and symptom is pain. This pain usually appears during activity, subsides quickly with rest, but then reappears the next time you go back to that activity. Swelling on the top of the foot or outside of the ankle may also be present. The metatarsal bones (the long bones between your toes and your heel) are the usual victims of stress fractures since they feel the greatest impact when you push off the ground while walking or running. These areas may be tender to the touch or even show signs of bruising.
Keep a look out for signs and symptoms of a stress fracture if you have suddenly increased the frequency or intensity of your workouts or if you change environments (such as changing from running on a treadmill to running outside). If you do suspect that you have a stress fracture, stop all activity immediately and go see your podiatrist! Repeated strain on a fractured bone may result in an acute fracture or even a full break. If these things happen, you can expect your recovery time to double at the least.
Your doctor can diagnose a stress fracture with a simple in-office x-ray. Treatments include practicing the RICE method (rest, ice, compression, elevation) to help with healing. Anti-inflammatory medication can help with swelling. Your doctor may also prescribe the use of crutches, special supportive shoes, modified activities (like biking or swimming), or apply a cast. With severe injuries, a surgical procedure may be necessary to secure the bones during healing. Whatever you do, do not resume physical activity until your doctor says it is ok. It may be hard to sit out of the game for a few weeks, but if re-injury or chronic fractures appear, you could end up being out for the whole season.
I’ve said it time and time again, but pain is NOT normal. If you experience pain with physical activity, call the FAAWC right away. Don’t stress out over stress fractures, we’ve got you covered and can recommend the right treatment to get you back on track in no time.