S is for Stress Fractures

May 18, 2013

Stress fractures are small cracks that develop in bones when the cumulative load on the bone exceeds the ability of the bone to take the load.

Stress fractures are small cracks or breaks in a bone that develop due to repetitive stress or overuse. They are typically caused by repetitive forceful activities that exceed the bone’s ability to repair itself. Stress fractures commonly occur in weight-bearing bones, such as the bones of the feet, lower leg, and hip.

Causes: Stress fractures are often the result of repetitive activities or increased stress on the bones without adequate time for recovery. Factors that can contribute to stress fractures include sudden increases in activity level, changes in training surface or equipment, improper footwear, poor biomechanics, and decreased bone density (e.g., osteoporosis).

Symptoms: The most common symptom of a stress fracture is localized pain, which worsens with activity and improves with rest. The pain may be sharp or dull and is typically focused on a specific area. Swelling, tenderness, and mild bruising may also be present.

Common Locations: Stress fractures can occur in various bones, but they frequently affect weight-bearing bones of the lower extremities, including the metatarsals in the foot, tibia (shinbone), fibula, and femur (thighbone). They can also occur in other bones, such as the pelvis and vertebrae.

Diagnosis: Stress fractures can be challenging to diagnose because they may not show up on initial X-rays. However, other imaging tests like bone scans, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), or computed tomography (CT) scans can often provide a more accurate diagnosis by detecting the subtle changes in the bone structure.

Treatment: The primary treatment for stress fractures is rest to allow the bone to heal. This may involve avoiding activities that put stress on the affected area and using crutches or a walking boot for protection. Ice, elevation, and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may help manage pain and inflammation. In some cases, a cast or surgical intervention may be necessary.

Recovery: Healing time for stress fractures can vary depending on the location and severity of the injury. It typically takes several weeks to a few months for the bone to heal completely. During the recovery period, gradual return to activity is recommended, under the guidance of a healthcare professional, to prevent re-injury.


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