Signs You're Living With a Stress Fracture in Your Foot

A stress fracture is one of the most common overuse injuries related to exercise and sports. Though this condition is typical among athletes, a stress fracture can affect anyone who participates in repetitive or high-impact activities. Almost 50% of all sports injuries are overuse injuries.

A stress fracture in your foot typically occurs as the result of movements that produce repeated strain on an affected bone. In response to the added pressure, the bone develops a tiny, hairline crack, called a stress fracture. Without treatment or modifying your activities to allow the bone to heal, the crack can become deeper over time. 

Early detection and appropriate care are the best ways to prevent a stress fracture from developing into a full broken bone. At Chicagoland Foot and Ankle, our team of board-certified foot and ankle specialists provide professional diagnosis and treatment of stress fractures and other foot injuries, diseases, and conditions. After a thorough physical examination and assessment, your podiatrist determines the extent of your stress fracture and the most appropriate course of treatment for recovery.

Find out how to decide whether your symptoms indicate a potential stress fracture and how you can prevent your condition from worsening.

Physical symptoms of a stress fracture

Stress fractures often affect the weight-bearing bones in your foot, which work to absorb the repetitive stress that occurs during running, jumping, and walking. Common locations include the second and third metatarsal bones, the long thin bones between your toes and ankle, which is where you’re likely to first notice discomfort.

Since the initial signs of a stress fracture may be mild, it’s easy to ignore them or brush them off as an inconvenience. However, the more often you participate in the damaging activity without allowing time for the bone to heal, the more likely it is that the stress fracture can worsen and cause the following symptoms:

If you experience any of these symptoms, it’s important to get a medical evaluation to determine proper treatment and reduce the risk of further damage to the affected bone.

How stress fractures occur

Stress fractures don’t occur as the result of an injury or accident, but develop over time. The movements involved in high-impact sports, like running, basketball, tennis, and track and field, involve repetitive activities that are more likely to cause stress fractures.

You may be living with a stress fracture if you’ve made rapid changes in your activities without allowing time for proper conditioning. This can occur when you suddenly increase the frequency or number of days in which you participate in an activity or change from one type of activity to another. 

Using a different exercise surface, like moving from a treadmill to outdoor running, can change the way you put weight on your foot and make you susceptible to stress fractures. Other practices, like using improper equipment or wearing ill-fitting footwear, can exert pressure in areas unable to support repetitive forces. 

Certain physical factors can also increase your risk of developing a stress fracture. Being overweight or having medical conditions like osteoporosis can make your bones more vulnerable to added stress during repetitive movements. 

What to do if you suspect a stress fracture

If you have symptoms common to a stress fracture, it’s important to get an accurate diagnosis as early as possible. An imaging test, such as an X-ray, MRI, or bone scan, is required to accurately diagnose the location and extent of a stress fracture. 

Without proper diagnosis and treatment, a stress fracture can worsen and become a full fracture, causing more intense pain and possible displacement of the affected bone. This can cause long-term damage or the need for surgical correction.

Treatment for a stress fracture usually involves steps to reduce the weight-bearing load on the affected foot. This typically requires allowing your bone time to heal by using the RICE method: rest, ice, compression, and elevation.

Your podiatrist advises the appropriate use of pain medication to reduce discomfort and swelling. You may also have to use a walking boot, brace, or crutches to immobilize the affected bone and promote healing. 

Find out more about stress fractures and whether you may be risking long-term damage by living with this condition. To schedule a consultation with a podiatrist at Chicagoland Foot and Ankle, call our office, or book an appointment at one of our four locations throughout the Chicagoland area. 

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