The bones in your lower legs and feet that carry your weight are especially susceptible to stress fractures. Stress fractures are tiny cracks in your bones, or they may be extreme bruising in your bones. In either case, they are painful.
The highly qualified physicians at Orthocenter have treated numerous stress fractures. Our doctors who provide sports medicine services often see stress fractures in athletes. Knowing how stress fractures begin provides a way for you to avoid them.
The main cause of stress fractures
The leading cause of stress fractures is ramping up activity too quickly. Whether you change the intensity or the amount of activity, doing so too quickly can result in a stress fracture.
For example, a runner who switches from running for 30 minutes three times a week to running for an hour five times a week might be increasing their risk of a stress fracture. Another example would be going from a mostly sedentary lifestyle to an intense training schedule.
The best way to protect yourself from stress fractures is to build up your activity levels slowly. If you’re already training, increase the intensity, frequency, or duration of your training sessions slowly and with deliberation.
Risk factors for stress fractures
If you have foot problems, such as flat feet, you have a higher risk of developing stress fractures. Other things that raise your risk include:
- Being female: Women experience more stress fractures than men
- Drinking more than 10 alcoholic beverages per week
- Running more than 25 miles per week
- Playing high-impact sports like track and field, basketball, or soccer
- Having a condition that weakens your bones
- Consuming a poor diet
How stress fractures happen
Your bones are in a constant state of renewal through a process called remodeling. Bone tissue is destroyed, reabsorbed by your body, then rebuilt. New bone replaces older bone.
When you quickly increase the amount or intensity of your activity, your bones can’t keep up. Older bone is reabsorbed faster than your body can generate new bone tissue, and that leaves your bones weaker than usual and more vulnerable to stress fractures.
Treatment of stress fractures
The first step in treating a stress fracture is the classic RICE protocol: rest, ice, compression, and elevation. Your doctor may suggest anti-inflammatory medications as well.
You will likely need to modify your activities to give your bones time to heal. If you’re a runner, perhaps you can try cycling or swimming for 6-8 weeks.
Your doctor may suggest different footwear to provide protection, or depending on the location of your fracture, you may need to wear a cast. In some instances, surgery is the best treatment.
It’s important to follow your doctor’s instructions as your stress fracture heals. Returning to activity too soon can lead to a worse injury that takes longer to heal, or even to chronic issues.
If you’re experiencing pain and have risk factors that make you think it may be a stress fracture, schedule an appointment for an evaluation at one of our three convenient locations in Holmdel, Red Bank or Morganville, New Jersey. Taking time out to heal can keep you in the game long-term.