This month, we’ve talked about ligaments and we’ve talked about tendons. Now we need to talk about your bones. Your feet have over a quarter of the bones in your entire body (26 in each foot to be exact). We rely on our feet to get us through everyday life, but everyday life might be getting back at us with damage to our bones.
Bones are rigid, unlike tendons, muscles, and ligaments, which bend and stretch. If you break a toe from a sudden event, you usually know by the immediate pain and the amount of cursing that accompanies it. Not every broken toe comes from a sudden trauma though, and the signs of a slow stress fracture aren’t always as obvious as a sudden injury.
A stress fracture is brought on by repetitive motion. This could be from sports or just from everyday activities. Over time, hairline cracks in a small bone can turn to big cracks and eventually full breaks. The early warning signs of a fractured toe are subtle, but if you pay attention to your feet (like I always tell you to!), you should be able to recognize when your feet just don’t feel right. The first sign is pain. I say it time, and again, pain is not normal. Any sudden pain that occurs during a specific motion or activity is bad. Pain that gets worse during activities and then feels immediately better when you rest can be indicative of a stress fracture.
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As the fracture deepens, the pain will get worse and stick around longer. It may now be accompanied by swelling, bruising, or tenderness. You may find it difficult to put on a shoe or even walk on the fracture. Seeing a podiatrist before you get to this point is important. Stress fractures are more likely to occur in people who train on hard surfaces (like concrete), repeat certain motions (like jumping and running), or wear improper shoes with little cushioning.
Even though treatment is generally straightforward, these injuries take a lot of time to heal. Your podiatrist may recommend a splint or boot to immobilize the joint and protect the toe. During this time, you may have to sit out of your favorite activities until the fracture heals. If you return to the same activity too soon, you’ll continue to damage to your bones, and more drastic treatment options may need to be taken. During your healing time, try activities like swimming or cycling which take pressure off the feet.
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You can avoid stress fractures by taking proper precautions such as good shoes for activity, varied training surfaces, and paying attention to early warning signs. If you think you have a fractured toe, stop all activity, use the R.I.C.E. method for symptom treatment, and make an appointment with the FAAWC. Your toes will thank you.