Stress fractures - The facts
Stress fractures occur when there is a small hairline crack in the bone, usually in the lower limb. Common sites are the foot and shin, or tibia. 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, increasingly painful on weight bearing and eventually even on rest. 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. You should seek professional advice to get a correct diagnosis and prevent the situation getting worse.
How long will I be out of action for?
Stress fractures usually take 6 to 8 weeks to heal. During that time you might be able to do low impact exercise such as swimming and exercises involving the uninjured leg, 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 is likely to cause more pain and complications, taking longer to heal and leading to more time off your favourite sport.
How can we help?
It is important to get the right diagnosis and at Active we can help by ultrasound scanning the area and referring you for further diagnostic tests if needed, prescribing appropriate footwear and splints where necessary, together with cross training exercises to maintain muscle strength, flexibility and aerobic fitness throughout recovery. A course of laser therapy can help with pain relief and accelerating healing, and orthotics may be needed to support and offload the foot through the healing stages.
I have a small favour to ask you.
I produce these blogs for the benefit of the running community and I want as many runners as possible to benefit from these. It would really help me if you could take a moment to share these articles with your friends on social media and any relevant groups or forums that you may be subscribed to.
Please feel free to post any questions and comments if these blog post raise any issues for you. Thanks from a fellow runner!