Stress fractures are a relatively common injury in even the fittest of athletes. Stress fractures are hairline fractures that occur most commonly in the foot and lower leg. Caused by overuse, runners and gymnasts are no strangers to them.
The connective tissues (ligaments, tendons, muscles) in the lower leg and foot normally absorb the impact from weight bearing activity like running and landing. The bones play a role in stress absorption as well, but when they become overstressed and inadequate time for recovery is allowed, a stress fracture will often result.
Put simply, repetitive pounding on the bones of the feet is the most common cause of stress fractures. You can get them in other areas of the body as well, but this is less common. We tend to see stress fractures in three types of people:
Pain over the fracture site, whether it’s in the foot or lower leg is the first sign of a stress fracture. Aches and pains are common in runners, but they should go away in a few days, tops. If the pain doesn’t go away on its own, then it’s time to get a work up.
Here’s the tricky part. What typically happens is that your doctor will want to order an x-ray whenever you say you have pain in a bone. Stress fractures will not show on an x-ray for many weeks, if at all – they’re too small to be seen this way. If the x-ray doesn’t show anything, you need an MRI or bone scan to establish the diagnosis.
Regardless, if you have persistent bone pain in your foot or lower leg, you need to rest! Stress fractures take about 2 months to heal, with rest. Continuing to run will prolong and worsen the injury.
Not taking the proper steps to heal a stress fracture can lead to more time off, re-injury, chronic foot problems and constant pain. Take the time now to rest and heal your body so that you can get back to doing what you love as soon as you can!
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