Stress fractures occur when there is a small hairline crack in the bone, usually in the lower limb. Common sites are the foot and lower leg. Unlike common fractures, which are caused by a sudden impact, stress fractures are caused by overuse and are therefore most common in athletes doing impact sports such as running.
How do I know if I've got one?
The pain of a stress fracture is often described as a dull ache, very specifically painful over the affected area, sometimes accompanied by swelling, and increasingly painful on weight bearing. Often the cracks are too tiny to be seen on X Ray until about 6 weeks after the injury, so getting an early X Ray may give a false impression that no fracture is there.
Help! What do I do?
Don’t panic! The most important thing is to stop all activities that aggravate the injury, and make sure the area is fully supported and offloaded while it is healing. This may need a stiff soled shoe or an aircast boot depending on the location and severity of the injury
How long will I be out of action for?
Stress fractures usually take 6 to 8 weeks to heal. During that time you should be able to do low impact exercise such as swimming, cycling, stretching and balance exercises, but not if it is hurting the affected area. Pain is a definite sign that you should stop!
It is important that this injury is closely supervised throughout recovery to make sure that you are not returning to activity too soon. Putting further stress on the fracture may widen the crack, taking longer to heal and leading to more time off your favourite sport.
How can a Podiatrist help?
Podiatrists can help by prescribing appropriate footwear and splints where necessary, together with cross training exercises to maintain muscle strength, flexibility and aerobic fitness throughout recovery. Orthotics may be needed to support and offload the foot through the healing stages.
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