A stress fracture is a tiny crack in the bone caused by overuse. Most stress fractures occur on your metatarsal bones in your foot but they can occur in any part of the body. Stress fractures develop over a long period of time and are often initially unnoticed. Your bones naturally break down bone and rebuild bone on a continual basis. If too much force in repeatedly applied to the bone, then the breaking down of bone will exceeds the rebuilding of bone. The bone is insufficiently repairing itself. This is called bone fatigue. Over time the bone becomes weaker and eventually cracks. The fracture is very small and is often unapparent on x-rays.
Physical activity is always encouraged, but working out too hard too fast puts your body at risk for injury. When starting to work out or changing your workout routine, make sure you give your body time to adjust to the new stresses. It takes time for your muscles and bones gain the strength necessary to absorb the impact of running, jumping, and jarring. When your muscles fatigue, they no longer distribute the forces along the entire bone and the bone has to carry an increase of load. This will lead to fractures. Sometimes even changing the surface you run on can lead to injuries. If you are used to running on the grass or a softer surface, changing to cement or concrete surfaces will force your body to absorb more of the impact. You may not notice the bone fatigue initially but over time, you may develop a small crack in the bone or stress fracture.
Stress fracture pain is usually experienced with increased activity. Therefore, one may notice the pain to get worse the more they work out. The pain also occurs earlier in the workout as the fracture progresses. Initially the pain will subside with rest, but as the fracture increases in size the pain will become more constant. The pain may also be elicited by palpating the area over the fracture. Sometime a doctor may use a tuning fork to elicit the pain. The fork causes vibrations in your bone, and if a fracture is present it will cause pain. If no fracture is present, the tuning fork will not cause pain. Your podiatric physician will also take x-rays to rule out any other complications. The stress fracture will often be unapparent on a x-ray because the crack is so small. Therefore, the physician may need to order an MRI or bone scan to further assess the injury.
The best treatment for a stress fracture is rest. Chen Lu, a professional figure skater, missed the Olympics due to a stress fracture, Scott Neidemayer missed his Hockey All Star Game, and Yao Ming had to sit out a large portion of the season to nurse his stress fracture. Whether you are a professional athlete or have sport hobbies, you need to rest if you have a stress fracture. The only way to fully recover and prevent the injury is to slow down and allow your body to heal. Changing your workout to less impact sports and slowly increasing your body’s demands is highly recommended. Athletic shoes lose their shock absorptive properties and should be replaced at least every 6 months. NSAIDS can be taken to reduce the pain but should not be taken for long periods of time. If you are experience any foot pain that is continually getting worse, you should see a podiatric physician to assess the injury.
This is a guest blog by Dr Peter Wishnie of Family Foot and Ankle Specialists in New Jersey.....Run Happy! And with less stress :)