Stress fractures are an excellent reason to stick to a sensible training plan. They're an overuse injury that can significantly disrupt your training schedule—it's not uncommon for them to prevent you from engaging in physical activity for a couple of months. While stress fractures in the feet are commonly associated with distance runners, any athlete that jumps or sprints regularly can develop them. This includes martial artists, dancers, gymnasts, and soccer players.
Stress fractures can be quite painful, and they require treatment—attempting to ignore the pain and train through it will only worsen the fracture. Because of this, it's important to schedule an appointment with a sports injury treatment specialist for a diagnosis whenever you suspect that you may have a stress fracture in your foot. To help you understand what leads to stress fractures and how you can have yours treated, read on.
What Causes a Stress Fracture?
Stress fractures occur when the amount of force a bone is subjected to can't keep pace with its natural ability to regenerate itself. Whenever a bone is subjected to a force that's strong enough, such as when a runner's foot hits the ground, it suffers a very tiny amount of damage. To prevent this repeated damage from breaking the bone, the bone is constantly resorbing old tissue and rebuilding new tissue. If this process doesn't happen quickly enough, the repeated force eventually cracks the bone and causes a stress fracture.
In the foot, stress fractures are most common in the metatarsals, which are the narrow finger-like bones in the center of the foot, and the calcaneus, which is the heel bone. These two bones absorb most of the force of running and jumping, so they're damaged faster. However, stress fractures can occur in any bone in your foot.
How Can You Tell if You Have a Stress Fracture?
Stress fractures cause pain and swelling. You can often tell the difference between stress fractures and other common foot injuries such as plantar fasciitis by the fact that the pain from a stress fracture is typically very localized. It's located at the bone itself and rarely spreads throughout the entire foot. For minor stress fractures, you may only feel this pain while running or walking. For major stress fractures, you'll most often feel this pain all the time, even when your foot is elevated off of the ground.
Why do Athletes to Get Stress Fractures?
The most common reason why athletes develop stress fractures is over-training. When bones rebuild themselves in response to repeated injuries, they become stronger as a result. Increasing your training duration or intensity (for example, suddenly adding more miles to your running distance) will out-pace your bone's ability to naturally strengthen and result in a stress fracture.
You may also experience a stress fracture if you're training in shoes that have inadequate cushioning or if you're training on a surface that's extremely hard such as concrete. The bones in your feet are simply exposed to too much force regularly for the natural healing process to keep up.
If your bones' natural healing process is slowed down, you can also suffer from a stress fracture. This can happen when your intake of calcium or vitamin D is too low since your bones require both to heal. Since the healing process mostly occurs when you're sleeping, a chronic lack of sleep can also lead to a stress fracture.
How Is a Stress Fracture Treated?
In most cases, the only treatment necessary to heal a stress fracture is rest and time. However, it's important to schedule an appointment with a sports injury treatment specialist when you think that you may be suffering from one. An MRI can be taken of your foot to determine the location and severity of the stress fracture, which allows your doctor to determine a treatment plan.
For less severe stress fractures, you will likely be asked to stop performing the activity that led to it (such as running) for about two months. For severe stress fractures, you may be asked to wear a cast or use crutches so that walking doesn't interfere with the healing process. The most severe stress fractures may require minor surgery to place pins into the bones. This holds them together so that they heal correctly.
The fact that the severity of your stress fracture determines the course of treatment means that any suspected stress fracture should be diagnosed by a sports injury treatment specialist. If you think that you have one, schedule an appointment with services such as Town Center Orthopaedic Associates, P.C.