“You have a stress fracture” is a diagnosis shared all too often by orthopedic specialists, especially when treating athletes. Athletes are most at risk due to repetitive activity and overuse of their feet and legs. Overuse causes the lower extremities to continually absorb these forces and potentially causing tiny cracks in the bones.
If athletic activity is too frequent, it diminishes the body’s ability to repair and replace bone. And the likelihood of sustaining a stress fracture increases. That’s why runners, dancers, soccer players, and basketball players are particularly vulnerable to stress fractures.
And, according to The Orthopedic Clinic Association (TOCA) orthopedic and sports medicine care expert, Dr. Gerald Yacobucci, MD, “If they are already experiencing consistent pain, the more these athletes train and compete, the more they may be placing themselves at greater risk for injury – and time away – from the sport or activity they enjoy.”
Here’s what Dr. Yacobucci and the TOCA team want ALL athletes, parents, and coaches to know in order to recognize stress fracture symptoms, help prevent stress fractures from occurring, and remain injury-free.
What are some of the signs of stress fracture to watch out for? Rather than the sharp pain resulting from an acute fracture, stress fractures are typically accompanied by a dull pain that increases gradually. Often, the pain subsides during rest and intensifies during activity. Swelling around the site may be present as well as some tenderness and bruising. As mentioned above, stress fractures can be caused by overuse of lower extremities, common in athletes, but they can also arise from a sudden upsurge in physical activity. Osteoporosis can also increase the chance of a stress fracture.
It’s important to remember that, if dull pain persists, it’s time to seek help from an orthopedic specialist!
Immediately after injury or stress fracture symptoms occur, patients are encouraged to follow the RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) method. Once you consult with you orthopedic specialist, he/she will examine the “pain point” and X-rays will likely be taken. If the stress fracture is not visible via X-ray, but your doctor still suspects that you have a stress fracture, he/she may recommend that you get an MRI.
Nonsurgical treatment options for stress fractures include keeping weight off of the area (perhaps wearing a boot or using crutches), and modified activity for a period of up to 8 weeks. In some, more severe, cases, surgery may be necessary to allow the stress fracture to heal properly. This typically entails using a pin, screw, or plate to “fasten” the bones together in order to promote healing. The key to recovery is to allow ample time for rest, healing, and rehabilitation. Taking time off ensures that you can eventually get back to the activities you enjoy safely and without placing yourself at risk for additional injury.
According to Dr. Yacobucci, “One of the most important pieces of advice I share with patients, especially athletes, is to monitor and be mindful of your activity and pain level. If you find that you’re consistently experiencing pain during training or workouts, then it’s time to listen to your body’s signals. Refrain from activity until you seek further treatment from an orthopedic expert.”
Additional stress fracture prevention tips from Dr. Yacobucci and TOCA experts include:
Ken Mautner, MD, Walter I. Sussman, DO, Katie Nanos, MD, Joseph Blazuk, MD, Carmen Brigham, ATC, Emily Sarros, ATC
American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine / J Ultrasound Med 2018; 9999:1-8 / 0278-4297