We all know what fractures are. It is not uncommon to have broken or fractured a bone in your life. You jump off a high structure or you get in wrestling match with your brother and next thing you know, you have to go to the hospital because you broke a bone. The use of the term “stress” when pertaining to a fracture may be puzzling for some. The common statement heard by podiatrists is: “I do not recall any serious pain to my foot”. Although the patient may not believe any particular event caused the fracture, it is still not wise to rule out that they did in fact suffer from a traumatic event.
The term “hairline fracture” creates the proper image of what a stress fracture is–a small break in the bone. With over two-hundred bones in your body, a fracture can occur nearly anywhere but stress fractures are most prevalent in the foot. This is because the feet bear the weight of the entire body. Often times, stress fractures are related to “overuse”, usually resulting from sports, overtraining, or sudden increases in activity without proper conditioning. Sports like running, basketball, football and even tennis are common activities where athletes develop stress fractures. While participation in some activities put you at an increased risk for the development of stress fractures than others, it is important to realize any physical activity where the foot is put under high stress or subjected to repetitive forces and high impact landings can lead to a stress fracture.
A typical activity is working out on the treadmill (a.k.a. the dreadmill). When running on a treadmill, at the same speed and the same incline setting for long periods of time, you’re essentially taking your foot and slamming it over and over again on a hard surface in the exact same spot. You can easily get a foot stress fracture this way. To prevent this, if you must use a treadmill, try changing the speed and incline you run at frequently, so as to mimic running outside more closely. As a result, you can change the way your foot hits the ground and can lesson the stress on particular parts of the foot.
Stress fractures are more common in women than men, for one main reason: osteoporosis. This is compounded by two other common conditions in women: eating disorders and irregular menstrual cycles. The two symptoms can add to the building up of osteoporosis, which is not only a condition for elderly women but can occur in early on. Of course, men are prone to stress fractures but they women have an increase chance of getting a stress fracture.
The most common locations in the foot for a stress fracture are the second and third metatarsals (long bones of the foot which run between the midfoot and the toes). The heel or the location known as the navicular (which is on top of the midfoot) can also experience a stress fracture. Stress fractures in this funny sounding bone are particularly difficult to heal because of inadequate blood supply.
Some common symptoms you may experience should you suffer a stress fracture are pain that starts gradually, gets worse with weight-bearing activities and slowly gets better with rest, possible swelling, tenderness to touch and possible bruising.
If you have a foot pain, you can’t remember doing anything to hurt it in the recent past, and you frequently participate in physical activities like the ones described above or you’ve just started exercising more often, you should consider seeing a podiatrist. He/she can perform a few simple tests in the office to rule out other possible causes and will be able to pick up on a stress fracture, should that indeed be what is causing you problems. Your podiatrist will be able to give you the proper treatment and help you get back to your normal activities as soon as possible.