Since we specialize in sports medicine at Finger Lakes Bone and Joint Center, it’s safe to say we know a thing or two about stress fractures.
It’s not uncommon to see athletes—be they new to a sport or not—come in with stress fractures. Stress fractures are tiny microfractures in a bone that are created when force is applied to the bone that tendons and muscle can’t cushion or the bone can’t support. While not as severe as a break, stress fractures can be painful and damaging.
There are a few possible explanations for causes of stress fractures:
In a typical workout scenario, an athlete will work up to a new goal over time by extending a training session or workout a few minutes each practice, or by gradually adding in mileage for each new run, so that the body’s muscles can keep up with the new gradual strain. Muscles build and ligaments stretch, both of which support the body’s bones, particularly the weight-bearing bones like the femur, tibia, and foot bones, which are at a higher risk for stress fractures. When an athlete skips the incremental steps to build muscle strength and over-exerts the body, like practicing three hours instead of the usual 30 minutes or running 13 miles after consistently running 3 or 4, the muscles can’t properly support the bones. This can increase the risk of stress fractures.
Sometimes stress fractures happen because of reasons out of a person’s control. For instance, a sports court might have a previously cushioned flooring replaced by a harder material, which can shock a body which had been accustomed to a cushioned floor. While the athlete is physically capable of a high level of impact and activity, the body has been conditioned to the previous set of standards, so placing that extra power and force against more resistance jars the bones, causing the fractures. Another fairly common scenario is a new pair of shoes which might improperly support an athlete’s foot, and the new stress could hurt their feet or legs.
Drastic equipment switches and training environment changes—such as new shoes or a new venue—should be broken in over short amounts of time to allow the body to familiarize itself with the new environment. The body should adjust fairly quickly, but each situation is unique. The bone and joint experts at Finger Lakes Bone and Joint Center can quickly and professionally advise each person on an appropriate approach to his or her needs for optimal athletic performance.
Stress fractures aren’t only limited to the leg bones or feet: while fractures are often seen in leg bones, especially the tibia, kneecap, or foot bones, it’s not uncommon to see stress fractures in other areas of the body. Sometimes fractures can occur in the spine due to gymnastics, in arms from tennis or baseball, or even the ribs because of boxing or from a car accident. Stress fractures can happen to anyone, and they generally occur at the location of the most strain on your body.
Symptoms of a stress fracture can be tricky to identify right away. Sometimes symptoms won’t be noticeable for a few days or possibly weeks, since there aren’t often visible indicators. Typically, the most obvious indicator is pain that occurs during—and shortly following—a workout. If the fracture is small, or what is called a “low-risk stress fracture,” the pain will go away with some rest until the next workout, when the bone (and therefore the crack) is being stressed again. It’s important to make an appointment with the Finger Lake Bone and Joint Clinic at this time so that an assessment can be performed to determine how severe the fracture is and what treatment plan is necessary. A “high-risk stress fracture” can hurt for extended periods of time, possibly accompanied by swelling, and in some cases bruising. Injuries like this should be seen by a doctor immediately. High-risk stress fractures can lead to more serious medical problems quickly, so time is of the essence.
Both types of stress fractures should be checked out by a doctor, as stress fractures can lead to bigger problems down the road. Stress fractures can also indicate a need to change a routine, diet, or workout regimen. If stress fractures go untreated they can grow into larger and more painful problems, such as bone healing in an incorrect position. Sometimes, if not treated properly, the fractures may never have the chance to heal at all.
In order to determine if a patient has a stress fracture and what kind, the doctors at Finger Lakes Bone and Joint Center will usually order an MRI to see exactly what damage has been done to the bone, and what kind of treatment plan will best set the patient up for a quick and successful recovery.
Recovery plans will certainly differ depending on the severity of the stress fracture. Some stress fractures can heal with rest or medical footwear, other stress fractures might need screws, and sometimes surgery is needed to graft new bone to help heal the fractured bone.
If you’re experiencing pain, bruising, or swelling that’s difficult to pinpoint in an area that takes an everyday beating, call Finger Lakes Bone and Joint Center to make an appointment to get on the road to recovery now!
“Stress Fractures.” OrthoInfo. American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, Oct. 2007. Web. July 2016.
“Stress Fracture.” FootCareMD. American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society, n.d. Web. July 2016.
“Stress Fractures.” KidsHealth – the Web’s Most Visited Site about Children’s Health. The Nemours Foundation, n.d. Web. July 2016.