If you play basketball regularly or you are a dancer by profession, the chances are you already know how painful a stress fracture can be. Although it is just a hairline crack, it can be extremely painful, especially when in a bone of weight bearing use such as the foot. If left untreated, a stress fracture in foot can become serious. It is possible to treat your stress fracture but you will have to be patient and take several steps to accelerate recovery.
How Do You Know If You Have Stress Fracture in Foot?
You will experience certain symptoms when you have a stress fracture. For instance, there will pain when you apply weight and that pain may go away after resting. The pain you experience usually becomes worse over the course of the day. You will notice tenderness in the affected area with occasional bruising and swelling outside of the ankle.
Keep in mind that even when you have a stress fracture in your foot, you should still be able to move your ankle and foot around. It means that stress fractures usually do not immobilize you, and that is a major reason why many sufferers do not seek immediate treatment. Many people continue to run on their injured foot and end up making their fracture worse.
Why Does It Occur?
You may get a stress fracture in foot due to a number of different reasons. For instance:
Repetitive Impact on Foot
Your bones have a limit to bear pressure, but when you exceed that limit constantly, this leads to an imbalance between the resorption and growth of bone. Repetitive force damages your bone cells, but your body adds new cells when you are at rest. If your body does not get enough rest for recovery, you will continue to lose bone cells that will lead to "bone fatigue". This will eventually cause tiny cracks to develop in those fatigued bones, which turn into stress fractures with time.
Sudden Increase in Activity
You may develop it when you suddenly increase the number of days you exercise each week. Similarly, you may develop a stress fracture when you suddenly increase the duration of activity – such as running or walking longer distances for extended hours.
There are many other factors that contribute to the development of stress fractures. For instance, you may develop a stress fracture in foot due to your footwear, exercise equipment, exercise surface, and insufficient rest periods. Corns, bunions, calluses may alter your gait and lead to the development of stress fractures. Certain conditions such as osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and neuropathic foot can also cause a stress fracture.
What to Do When You Develop a Stress Fracture in Foot
Do not continue with your activity despite feeling pain in your foot. The fact that you can move your foot does not mean you do not have a fracture or anything serious.
1. See a Doctor
Be sure to see your doctor as soon as you can to know how severe the fracture is. Ignoring the pain and continuing with your routine may break your bone completely.
Your doctor will conduct a physical exam and may even ask for specific imaging tests such as x-rays and MRIs to diagnose a fracture. Once they confirm you have a stress fracture in foot, they will suggest the following treatment options.
You should take plenty of rest, apply ice to your affected food, compress it, and keep it elevated.
- Avoid putting weight on your foot for some time and wear a thick-soled cork sandal instead of a thin slipper.
- Apply cold packs for 15-20 minutes several times a day and then wrap the area lightly in a soft bandage.
- Moreover, keeping your foot higher than your heart level will help reduce swelling and pain. Your doctor may give you pain relievers like ibuprofen if you have severe pain.
3. Physical Therapy
Your doctor may recommend the use of crutches for some time. This ensures you do not put excessive weight on your affected foot and give it time to heal. They may also try some other options. For instance:
- You will have to switch to modified activities to limit the amount of stress placed on your leg for at least 6-8 weeks until your fracture heals completely. Cycling and swimming are good form of exercises for someone with a stress fracture in foot.
- You will need to wear protective footwear for support. This may include a wooden-soled sandal, a stiff-soled shoe, etc.
- You will have to apply a cast if you have a stress fracture on the outer side of the foot. The casting will help keep your bones in a fixed position.
4. Surgical Treatment
If these treatment options do not work, you will have to undergo a surgical procedure called internal fixation. It involves inserting a fastener to support the bone. Plates, screws, and pins are also used to keep your small bones in place.
How to Prevent Stress Fracture in Foot
- Do not stick to one activity when exercising. Cross training helps avoid overstressing specific areas of your body. If you run a lot, be sure to mix it with cycling, swimming or some weight training.
- Buy proper footwear that fits you well and provides you with some support while running or engaging in physical activities.
- Consume more vitamin D and calcium-rich foods to keep your bones strong and healthy.
- Talk to your doctor if you are losing bone density due to aging.
- Always increase frequency and duration of a new exercise as slowly as possible. A sudden change in frequency can always shock your bones and muscles and lead to a stress fracture. Talk to your doctor or work with a sports medicine specialist to understand how to increase your level of activity.
- Avoid smoking to prevent stress fractures. If you already have a fracture, smoking will hamper healing. It happens due to the presence of nicotine that keeps the bone from healing.