Stress fractures are tiny cracks in a bone, commonly occurring in the lower leg or foot. They are caused by repetitive force, often from running long distances or repeatedly jumping up and down. They can cause pain, tenderness and localized warmth and swelling. The risk of developing a stress fracture is greater if you have recently started a new type of exercise or have significantly increased the duration or intensity of your workouts.
Stress Fracture Recovery – What You Need To Know & How To Prevent It
Stress Fracture Healing Time
For most people, the biggest challenge of recovery from a stress fracture is cutting back on their activity for an extended period of time. Ideally, you should avoid weight bearing in any form until the swelling in the area has decreased to the point that you can see skin creases. Then, you can begin partial weight bearing, supported by crutches or a cane if necessary. Typically, you can return to full weight bearing within two weeks of the symptoms appearing. Weight-bearing, after those initial two weeks, is good in that it stimulates healing.
For another six to eight weeks you should avoid the activity that caused the injury. Returning to it too quickly can have a negative impact on the healing process. It may also cause additional damage that never heals properly. When you resume exercising, it is important to do so gradually, increasing distances or repetitions only after confirming that the current level does not cause symptoms to return.
Stress Fracture Treatment and Recovery
In severe cases, a stress fracture may be treated with surgery. However, in most instances treatment involves:
- Elevating the extremity
- Icing the area
- NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) like ibuprofen, aspirin or naproxen
- A splint or cast to immobilize the affected area in some cases
Tips for Preventing a Stress Fracture
There are steps you can take to help minimize your chances of developing a stress fracture. They include:
- Wearing shoes or other footwear that properly supports your foot and absorbs shock
- Starting a new exercise routine gradually
- Eating a balanced diet and maintaining a healthy weight
- Cross-training to avoid overstressing a particular area of the body
- Performing strength training to increase bone density
- Listening to your body and reducing or stopping an activity if it causes pain
- Refraining from smoking, as smoking can delay the healing of fractures
Stress fractures are painful and frustrating injuries. But by taking action to prevent them, and addressing them promptly and properly if they occur, you can minimize their impact on the activities you enjoy.