A stress fracture can occur as a result of prolonged repeated loads on the legs. Long distance runners are particularly susceptible to this type of injury. A stress fracture in athletes occurs mainly in the lower leg and foot (in the calcaneus, navicular and metatarsal bones). Exercise will only worsen the foot pain, so resting is the best way to recover.
Symptoms of a stress fracture
There are many different types of stress fracture which can affect the bones in the foot. General symptoms include pain or aching of the affected bone which becomes worse with exercise and better with rest. There will be local tenderness over the site of the stress fracture.
Symptoms of a stress fracture of the foot include pain in the affected bone during exercise as well as tenderness and swelling at a point on the bone. Common stress fractures are of the 2nd or 3rd metatarsal bone which is sometimes called a march fracture because soldiers running in boots often get it! A stress fracture at the base of the 5th metatarsal is known as a Jones Fracture and can require surgical fixation.
Treatment of a foot stress fracture
What can the athlete do about it?
- See a sports doctor for advice.
- Rest for 6 to 8 weeks if a stress fracture is suspected. Use crutches if necessary.
What a Sports Injury Specialist or Doctor can do:
Often an X-ray of the injured bone will not show any sign of fracture until the fracture has actually started to heal (2-3 weeks later). If a stress fracture is suspected then you should rest completely for 6-8 weeks. Crutches can be helpful.
When the athlete does start back running, they must ensure the muscles in the lower leg are stretched and supple. Many people start back running and complain of pain because they have let their muscles get hard and tight, particularly in the lower leg.
See here for more information about the rehabilitation of metatarsal stress fractures.