Stress fractures are fractures that many don’t take seriously, although the consequences of an untreated stress fracture can be very serious. Stress fractures are known as incomplete fractures in the bones. They are caused by repeated and unusual stress to the bones. This is what makes stress fractures different from other fractures, which are usually caused by a solid and severe impact or blow. Other fractures happen almost instantly, while stress fractures happen over time.
The best way to describe a stress fracture is a small crack or sliver in the bone, which is why they may also be called ‘hairline fracture’. They most often occur in the bones that carry the most weight such as the bones of the foot (metatarsals) or bones of the lower leg (tibia). Stress fractures are very common sports injuries. In fact, more than 50% of stress fractures are with athletes.
When bones are injured, they have a way of repairing and healing themselves. In an injury such as what athletes get over time, there is sometimes so much stress put on the bones that they can’t repair themselves anymore. This is when stress fractures occur. Stress fractures never occur suddenly, but rather over a long stretch of time. They occur from repeated trauma to the bone. By itself, none of the trauma is bad enough to cause a fracture, but when they occur repeatedly over time, stress fractures occur.
Stress fractures also happen to people who are suddenly active when they are otherwise sedentary or inactive. Their bodies are not used to a lot of physical activity and when the individual suddenly becomes active, stress fractures may occur. This same happens with muscle fatigue, when the muscles are pushed beyond what they can take.
Symptoms of stress fracture may be tenderness as well as pain when you put weight on the specific part of the body. Runners, for instance, may feel a severe pain when the race begins moderate pain towards the middle of the race and, once again, severe pain towards the end of the race as well as after the race is done.
Diagnosis for stress fractures is made after a thorough examination by a physician and, often, different tests. Stress fractures will usually not show up on a regular X-ray, so your doctor may need to do an MRI, bone scan or CT scan.
The best way to heal a stress fracture is with rest. They may take up to 8 weeks, but only light use is recommended. The application of ice will also give relief to the affected area. Rehabilitation such as physical therapy is quite effective after and during the period of rest.