Foot Stress Fracture
If you run into a dead end on a one-lane road, you need to back up and start over in a new direction. When you hit the Delete button by mistake, hopefully you also have an Undo button that will reverse that action and recover the data you just lost. In a similar way, when repeated stress fractures a bone in your foot, you need to reverse that stress in order for it to knit together again.
Stress Fracture Basics
The first thing to know is that, while it is different from a complete break in a bone, the injury is still a fracture. Whether you only have small fissures on the bone surface or it has broken in two pieces, both will cause pain and both require treatment.
Small surface cracks usually occur from overuse. Repeated trauma from running, jumping, or any repetitive movement can gradually weaken the bone. Without proper rest and healing time, the bone degenerates further and hairline breaks appear in the outer layer. The most common bones affected are the metatarsals, the talus, navicular and heel bone in the back of your foot, and the end of the fibula by your ankle.
Repeated stress is not the only cause. If you have osteoporosis—soft bones—you can also experience this injury just in the course of your daily activities. Women are more at risk than men. Having flat feet or high rigid arches, suddenly increasing your activity, and certain sports can also be factors in developing stress fractures.
How to Tell If You Have a Stress Fracture
These injuries normally manifest themselves gradually over time, unlike a complete break which usually results from a specific event. You may notice a slight pain during activity, but it goes away when you stop so you don’t think about it anymore.
Unfortunately, it will likely continue to get worse, so eventually you may notice a tender area in the ball of your foot (the site of the crack) or pain in the heel, and the area may swell a little. If pain becomes severe, is worse when you press on the spot, or doesn’t go away when you rest, come in and let us check out your foot or leg. Many an athlete has kept running with what he or she thought was shin splints and made a hairline fracture even worse. Keep in mind that stress fractures may delay showing up on x-rays for 10-14 days, so if you have gone to an ER, urgent care or your primary care physician and had x-rays within 10 days of when the pain started and told you do not have a fracture, you might still have one.
How to Treat Cracks in Your Bone
The number one treatment is to take the weight off the foot. Pressure on the bone made it crack, so you need to relieve the pressure to let it heal. It goes without saying that you need to stop running, dancing, and jumping, but you should also not walk on the broken bone unless we okay it.
This is the single most important thing you can do—and keep doing—until your bone is fully healed. It is so important that we may advise the use of a walking boot, brace, or crutches to help with that process. You likely won’t need surgery (unless the bone involved has poor blood supply and heals slowly), but you should act as if you had, and stay off the foot as long as is needed for full recovery.
If you don’t follow weight-bearing instructions, you risk a small surface crack turning into a full-blown break that will keep you out of action even longer and possibly needing surgery. It may help to elevate your leg to relieve any swelling and inflammation during your recovery. We can also advise you on the correct pain reliever if you have severe discomfort.
SoCal Experts Specialize in Foot and Ankle Trauma
At Southern California Foot & Ankle Specialists, Dr. Robert Spencer and Dr. Nitza Rodriguez see a lot of sports injuries and feet damaged in accidents, so we know broken bones backwards and forwards. We will diagnose your foot stress fracture and guide you through your recovery so you can heal properly and hopefully avoid issues with the damaged bone in the future and get you back to your previous activity level.
Call our office in Ladera Ranch, CA at (949) 364-9255 (WALK), or simply request an appointment through our website. We promise to provide excellent care in a compassionate environment.