Sports place many physical demands on athletes’ bodies, particularly on weight-bearing bones like the bones in the foot and ankle. Overuse injuries to these high-performing bones, such as stress fractures, are incredibly common experiences for athletes of all varieties. Rebound’s foot and ankle team has extensive experience in treating foot and ankle stress fractures, injuries that many athletes are at high risk for.
Rebound foot and ankle specialist, Dr. Jay L. Crary, gives us a look at how foot and ankle stress fractures happen, how to spot the symptoms, treatment options and prevention techniques and tips.
What is a Stress Fracture?
Unlike a fracture, which is a broken bone, a stress fracture is a small crack in the bone.
“Stress fractures happen when repeated impact is placed on a bone and our muscles are unable to absorb the stress,” says Dr. Crary. “This can happen anywhere in the foot or ankle, but the second and third metatarsals are usually hit with stress fractures more frequently.”
The heel, fibula and navicular are also prime targets for foot and ankle stress fractures.
What Causes Foot and Ankle Stress Fractures?
Typically, stress fractures are caused by high-impact activities like exercise and sports. Although it is not as common, stress fractures can happen to those who are not involved in high-intensity workouts or sports, particularly if they are suffering from osteoporosis or other bone diseases.
“Like with many overuse injuries, three factors play an important role in developing stress fractures: frequency, duration and intensity,” says Dr. Crary. “When the body is overworked for extended amounts of time, stress fractures are more likely to occur.”
Athletes who participate in sports such as running, basketball, tennis, gymnastics and dance are usually at a higher risk for foot and ankle stress fractures because of repetitive stress placed on their feet and ankles. A lack of conditioning, proper equipment or technique can also disrupt the mechanics of the foot and ankle and result in a stress fracture.
What Symptoms are Associated with Foot and Ankle Stress Fractures?
“Some athletes do not realize they’ve suffered a foot and ankle stress fracture because pain develops gradually,” says Dr. Crary. “It is important to take notice of whether or not the pain increases when active.”
Some of the most common symptoms include:
- Pain that occurs during weight-bearing activities
- Pain that worsens with daily activities such as walking
- Swelling and tenderness
How are Foot and Ankle Stress Fractures Treated?
“Rest is key when it comes to foot and ankle stress fractures,” says Dr. Crary. “Ignoring the problem and continuing high-impact exercise will aggravate the problem and lead to more serious issues, possibly even a complete fracture.”
In addition to rest, our foot and ankle experts often recommend wearing protective footwear that provides bracing and additional support. This type of footwear reduces the stress on your foot and ankle. Depending on the severity, a cast and crutches may be recommended to keep your bones in a stable and fixed position, allowing them to heal quicker.
In severe cases, surgery involving pins, screws or plates may be beneficial.
Are Foot and Ankle Stress Fractures Preventable?
“Athletes can certainly take measures to prevent foot and ankle stress fractures,” says Dr. Crary. “Knowing the limits of your body is important- overworking it and disregarding pain leads to these types of overuse injuries. Diet, strength training, using the right equipment and letting yourself have rest days are all great ways to avoid a stress fracture.”
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