You use your feet every single day, and they are exposed to stress with every step you take. This stress and pressure is amplified every time you run, exercise or play sports, and your feet are tasked with shouldering this weight and helping you stay upright. However, if through overuse or overextertion, your feet can’t handle the repetitive forces, you can develop what’s known as a stress fracture. Below, we take a closer look at how these injuries are prevented and how you can treat them isfone develops.
Causes and Symptoms of Stress Fractures Of The Foot
As we touched on in the intro, most stress fractures in the feet are caused by overuse, overexertion or repetitive activity that causes stress to be channeled through your feet. Because of this, stress fractures are common in runners, in individuals with osteoporosis, and in athletes that do a lot of running, like basketball and soccer players. They can occur as a result of increasing your workload too quickly, by changing your workout surface (treadmill jogging vs. pavement jogging), or not giving your body enough time to train for the upcoming activity. For example, high school and college athletes who do not properly train in the offseason can suffer stress fractures when they go from little activity to a lot of activity during tryouts or first practices.
As for the nature of the injury, a stress fracture involves a small crack in the bone or severe bruising within the bone. The foot has to handle a lot of stress when jumping, landing and pushing off, so it’s no surprise that a small fracture can occur when these forces happen regularly or in rapid succession. Symptoms of a stress fracture in the foot include:
Gradual pain that worsens with activity
Bruising or discoloration
Diagnosis, Treatment and Prevention
If you have foot pain that develops and gets worse with activity, consider setting up an appointment with a foot specialist like Dr. Silverman. He’ll take a look at your foot, ask about your symptoms and then examine for any fractures using an x-ray or another imaging device. Using these assessments, he’ll not only be able to confirm the existence of a stress fracture, but he’ll also be able to pinpoint its precise location so that he can develop a care plan tailored to your specific situation.
For many patients with a stress fracture in their foot, treatment involves a lot of RICE, which stands for Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation. Resting will help give the fracture the time it needs to heal, while ice, compression and elevation can all help reduce swelling in the area. Over the counter nonsteroidial anti-inflammatory medications can also help with pain and swelling during recovery.
The vast majority of stress fractures heal just fine given enough rest. Following a period of rest, you’ll also want to adjust your activity levels so that another fracture doesn’t develop. This involves gradually increasing your activity levels and listening to your feet during activity. If pain begins to develop, stop the activity and look for other ways to stay active that aren’t as trying on your feet. For more serious cases, casting or protective footwear may be recommended to help keep weight off the foot while it heals.
In the rare event that your stress fracture doesn’t heal on its own with rest and protection, surgery may be necessary. In most cases, surgery involves inserting an internal fixation device that holds the small bones in place to allow them to heal correctly. Recovery can take anywhere from 6-12 weeks.
Like with all health conditions, prevention is preferred to treatment. We’ve touched on some prevention strategies already, but avoiding stress fractures in the foot really comes down to avoiding overstressing and overloading your feet. Some tips to keep in mind include:
Gradually increase your workout
Stop activity if you develop foot pain
Switch between upper and lower body workouts so as not to overload one area
Cross train or partake in different sports so the same movements aren’t stressing your feet year round
Eat a diet rich in calcium and Vitamin D to support healthy bone growth
Wear the right shoes to protect your feet during activity