The old childhood taunt begins with “sticks and stones may break my bones,” but there are certainly other ways that fractures develop. Although a physical traumatic event is usually thought of as the reason for a broken bone, accumulation of force over a period of time can also cause a fracture.
What is a Stress Fracture?
Instead of a fracture that happens as result of a single incident, stress fractures are hairline surface cracks that typically develop in response to cumulative force that adds up over time from high-impact activities. This will usually happen when the remodeling phase in bone healing process is not given enough time to replace the resorbed cells, and the tissue is not as strong as it otherwise would be.
Bones undergo a cycle of constant remodeling to more efficiently endure forces. The remodeling process entails resorbing old bone cells and then replacing them with new ones, and requires sufficient rest between periods of activity. An active lifestyle and proper nutrition can help to promote the remodeling process and provide the right nutrients to ensure strong, healthy tissue.
These surface fractures are recognized by pain that increases over time, worsens during and immediately after activity, and improves with rest. The location of the fracture can be tender and there may be swelling present.
Common Causes of Stress Fractures
Essentially, these breaks happen when bones are subjected to forces they are not used to and without having ample time to recover before additional stress is placed upon them. The repetitive application of tremendous force loads can lead to imbalance between the resorption and bone growth processes.
Repetitive forces can actually be a good thing—bones that are not subjected to a safe amount of force do not remodel correctly and can atrophy—but failing to receive adequate amounts of rest increases the likelihood that an individual will sustain this injury. Additionally, muscle tissue can help by absorbing some of the excess force, but not when they are fatigued themselves.
Stress Fracture Treatment
The best form of treatment is to keep weight off of the bone until it is fully healed. Depending on the severity of the case, this may require a brace or walking boot or even the use of crutches. Although it is rare, surgery can sometimes be used to stabilize the fracture, particularly if it develops in an area that has poor blood supply.
Home care for this type of break is centered on rest, ice, and slowly resuming activities over time. Rest allows your body the opportunity to perform natural healing functions, and ice reduces the levels of pain and swelling. When we determine it is okay to resume physical activity, it is important to ease back into it to reduce the risk of re-injury.
Fortunately, there are steps that can be taken to lower the risk of suffering a stress fracture. These include:
- Wearing proper footwear. Shoes should always be activity-appropriate, fit properly, and offer ample cushioning and arch support to assist in the distribution of forces.
- Make gradual changes. Whether you are just starting a workout program or have decided to ramp up your existing routine, do so gradually. It is better to start at a light level and slowly progress instead of trying to do too much and ending up with this or another injury.
- Cross-train. Not only will incorporating low-impact activities into your workout regimen lower your risk of injury, it will also lead to greater overall levels of fitness.
- Eat well. Proper nutrition is essential for making sure that your bones are strong. Eat lots of foods that contain calcium and other minerals and vitamins.
Professional Treatment for Foot & Ankle Stress Fractures
These hairline cracks are common and might not seem like a big deal, but you don’t want one to turn into a major issue. Instead, find the care and treatment you need here at Foot & Ankle Center of Oklahoma. Call our OKC office at (405) 418-2676 or schedule an appointment online today.
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