Each of your feet contains 26 bones. Together, these bones account for about one-quarter of your body's total number of bones. While you can undoubtedly break any of these bones in an accident — think falls or having something heavy fall directly on your foot — most of the time, your feet develop stress fractures.
Stress fractures are often subtle sports injuries, so our team of foot health experts at Neuhaus Foot and Ankle wants to dive into stress fractures — how they happen, how to recognize one, and how we treat them.
The makings of a stress fracture
When discussing stress fractures, we’re referring to small, hairline cracks in one of the bones in your feet or ankles or a deep bruise inside a bone. Whether it’s a true fracture or a severe bruise, these injuries are typically the result of overuse and repetitive activity.
Stress fractures tend to develop in people who really pound their feet, such as runners and athletes who engage in high-impact activities. That said, anyone can develop a stress fracture if they overuse their feet or start a new activity that puts new pressure on their feet.
All of the bones in your body are constantly renewing and remodeling. Often, when you have a stress fracture, your bone can’t keep pace with your demands, and microscopic damage to the bone accumulates and becomes a fracture.
Signs of a stress fracture
Since stress fractures are usually progressive, so are the symptoms. At first, your foot may feel slightly sore, especially after use. Over time, the discomfort increases, and you might feel pain with any weight bearing. The stress fracture can become tender to the touch, and you might develop some swelling in your foot or ankle.
Diagnosing and treating stress fractures
Any time you have progressive pain in your foot or ankle, it’s important to come to see us. After reviewing your symptoms and performing a physical examination, we can use diagnostic imaging to figure out whether there’s any damage in your bones.
If we find a stress fracture, your treatment will depend upon the extent of the damage. In all cases, we’re going to get you to rest the injured area, so count on hanging up your sneakers for a few weeks so your bones can take a much-needed break and heal.
If the fracture is moderate to severe, we may place you in a boot to take the pressure off.
After a few weeks of rest, we can reassess the stress fracture to determine when it’s safe to return to your more active pursuits.
Preventing stress fractures
If you want to avoid being benched by a stress fracture, the most important thing you can do is to stop activity at the first signs of trouble. One week of rest in the early stages of bone damage is much better than being sidelined for six weeks for a more advanced stress fracture.
We urge transitioning into new activities slowly. Or, if you want to increase your activity level, do so gradually to allow time for your feet to adjust.
If you want to learn more about stress fractures or suspect you have developed one, please contact one of our 13 locations in Tennessee to schedule a consultation.