Your feet and ankles are quite literally the foundation of your entire body. For that reason, they tend to bear the brunt of your body weight and movements. Unfortunately, that puts them at risk for a wide range of painful problems, including stress fractures.
But even the smallest foot injuries can sideline you if you aren’t careful.
Dr. Michael Tran, our podiatry expert at AllCare Foot & Ankle Center, gives you an inside look at what really happens when you have a stress fracture and a few ways you can care for them.
Stress fractures are pesky, painful little cracks that develop in your bones. They generally occur in one of two ways.
You might think that young, healthy bones are indestructible, but the sad truth is that your bones are vulnerable even when they’re at their strongest. Healthy bones can develop stress fractures as the result of overuse and repeated stress.
Normally, your muscles take on the majority of the stress in your feet and ankles. Over time, the stress fatigues your muscles, and your bones wind up acting as shock absorbers. For this reason, we see stress fractures develop most often in athletes who participate in high-impact sports, such as running, basketball, gymnastics, tennis, and cheerleading.
Strenuous activity isn’t the only thing that contributes to stress fractures in healthy bones. Your footwear, weight, and even preexisting foot deformities, like bunions, can all play a role.
If you have an underlying condition like osteoporosis that impacts your bone health, stress fractures could form even from low-impact activity. In fact, we often call stress fractures that stem from bone health issues “insufficiency fractures” because they happen in bones that don’t have enough strength or density to withstand normal impact forces.
Women are much more likely to suffer from this type of stress fracture because the natural drop in estrogen levels during menopause contributes to weaker bones.
Regardless of where your stress fractures came from, treating them is often fairly straightforward.
What your bones need now is a break. So, do your best to kick your feet up and take the pressure off. A respite from repeated stress gives the bones in your feet and ankles a chance to recover and repair themselves.
One of the most frustrating symptoms that accompanies stress fractures is swelling. Swelling is your body’s natural reaction to injury, but it can exacerbate pain and cause stiffness. Combatting that swelling is as easy as icing, elevating, and compressing the injured area.
If your specific situation calls for it, we may recommend that you use crutches for support or wear a boot or brace for extra protection. In some cases, a cast is the best option to help your foot heal.
Pain from stress fractures can be frustrating, but the good news is that it’s also easy to manage. Controlling swelling and taking over-the-counter pain medication is usually all you need to ease the pain that comes with stress fractures.
Stress fractures typically take six to eight weeks to heal completely. Once you’re finally ready to lace up and get back to your normal routine again, it’s a good idea to make some adjustments moving forward.
For example, we encourage you to make sure you have shoes that fit well and provide adequate support and cushioning for your feet and ankles. You should also consider tweaking how you exercise by easing into any new activity and mixing in more low-impact activities.
If you’d like more information about stress fractures and how to care for them, don’t hesitate to request an appointment online or over the phone at either our Arlington or Dallas, Texas, offices.