Understanding a Stress Fracture
These tiny, hairline cracks are caused by overuse and the cumulative effect of repetitive forces placed upon bone tissue. Your feet and ankles absorb more physical force than anywhere else on your body, so it should be no surprise that these cracks are most likely to develop there.
Other factors at play, too. When your other tissues (muscles, tendons) become fatigued, more of the force of your steps is transferred directly to the bones. Now, bone tissue is hard and durable, but it undergoes an almost constant cycle of replenishing itself. When it is subjected to greater force loads and at shorter intervals without proper rest between, the cycle is interrupted and the bones are weaker than they otherwise would be.
These surface cracks in your bones can cause big pain, but it takes time before they get to that point. At the start, the pain might be only barely noticeable. As regular use is continued, it becomes progressively worse. In addition to the pain, you may also experience tenderness and swelling in the affected area. A key indicator that your problem is a stress fracture, and not another condition, is that the pain and tenderness subside with rest.
Risk Factors for Stress Fractures
While it is possible for anyone who has bones in his or her feet or legs to develop these small breaks, there are certain factors that make it more likely for some individuals. These include:
- Sports. Particularly ones that are played on hard surfaces and require lots of pounding on the feet and legs. Basketball, tennis, and track and field are common contributing factors to these injuries.
- Gender. Women tend to be at higher risk than men and this can be attributed to menstrual factors.
- Foot structures. Individuals who have rigid, high arches or flat feet are more likely to have pronation issues that can lead to these injuries.
- Weak bones. When bones are weakened by conditions like osteoporosis, individuals are more prone to such breaks.
- Increased activity. A sudden shift into an active lifestyle or increase in frequency, duration, and/or intensity of physical activity can place someone at greater risk.
Stress Fracture Prevention and Treatment
The good news is that there are measures you can take to keep them away. Beginning new activities slowly and gradually making progress with intensity and duration of each session is one such step. Other ways include wearing proper footwear, cross-training, and getting proper nutrition for strong, healthy bones.
If preventative measures have failed, then it is time to care for your injury. The best place to start is to give your body some much-needed rest. Keep off the affected limb until we clear you to resume normal weight-bearing activities. Use ice to relieve the pain and keep swelling to a minimum. We might recommend using ice packs as much as four times per day. When you are ready to resume your usual activities, you will have to re-enter them slowly. Our doctors will work with you to create a plan that accounts for gradual progression in exercise and physical activity.
Austin, TX Foot and Ankle Care
When you experience pain in your lower limbs, your first move should be to contact our experts here at Austin Foot and Ankle Specialists. We will provide an accurate diagnosis and an effective treatment plan to get you back on your feet as soon as it is safe to do so. Reach out to our Austin, TX office by calling (512) 328-8900 or use our online form to schedule your appointment today.