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Stress fracture in the foot

Updated on 7 July 2024

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A stress fracture in the foot doesn’t happen due to a single trauma, unlike a normal fracture.

Instead, it occurs in response to multiple repeated small stresses to the same bone in the foot.

While painful, this foot injury is particularly difficult to spot.

Therefore, to avoid unintentionally aggravating it, it is important to know how to recognize the symptoms and how to medically treat a stress fracture.

Read on to learn more about the stress fracture in the foot.

The various types of stress fractures in the foot

Predominantly found in athletes, stress fractures are usually located in the heel or midfoot.

Stress fracture in the heel: This part of the foot is instrumental in absorbing shock during stride. Therefore, it is not surprising that runners experience stress fractures in the heel.

However, the symptoms of a heel fracture can be similar to other foot problems such as:

  • Talalgia
  • Plantar fasciitis
  • Heel spur
  • Sever’s disease
  • Achilles tendinitis
  • Runner’s disease (Haglund’s disease)

Fatigue fracture of the metatarsus (metatarsal fracture): The five metatarsal bones also play a role in supporting the weight of the body. They perform basic stabilizing functions. A fatigue fracture of the metatarsal occurs when an athlete drastically increases the intensity or duration of their training.

Some symptoms of a metatarsal stress fracture may resemble the following injuries or deformities:

The inconspicuous nature of these types of injuries further complicates treatment, so it’s important to consult your podiatrist as soon as symptoms appear, for example:

  • Severe pain in the heel or forefoot that worsens with weight bearing and gets better with rest
  • Swelling of the painful area

Available treatments

Before the podiatrist can offer an individual treatment, they must make the diagnosis of stress fracture beyond doubt.

To achieve this, they can resort to various analytical tools such as digital x-ray or ultrasound of the foot.

The podiatrist can then set up a proper intervention plan once the diagnosis of a stress fracture is confirmed.

Treatments may include:

  • Therapeutic taping: Therapeutic taping allows the foot to restrict movement that might otherwise be painful. The taping can also be used during the period of return to sports.
  • Therapeutic laser: Similar to shockwave therapy, therapeutic laser treatment provides temporary relief to the painful area. Additionally, this method improves blood flow to the foot and reduces inflammation of the surrounding tissue.
  • Foot orthoses: If musculoskeletal imbalance is at the root of the fracture, custom foot orthoses can help correct the imbalance and reduce the recurrence of the fracture.

A stress fracture does not always require a cast, unlike most traditional fractures.

However, if the podiatrist believes the healing to be progressing too slowly, they may recommend the use of a walking boot or splint.
The podiatrist may refer the patient for physical therapy or even bone surgery, in some extreme cases.

Recovery from a stress fracture in the foot

Healing from a stress fracture can take several weeks.

It is a good idea to take the following preventative measures to avoid further delaying recovery:

  • Discontinue activities that increase stress on the fracture, such as running and other sports that stress your feet
  • Avoid putting weight on the injury and use crutches when necessary
  • Elevate your foot and place ice on it if swelling occurs
  • Wear shoes of the correct size
  • Gradually increase the intensity and duration of the exercises according to tolerance

If the pain proves too much to bear and prevents you from functioning normally, be sure to seek the advice of a doctor.

Preventing further stress fractures

A stress fracture tends to come back, therefore prevention is more than crucial!

Adopting the following behaviors can help you protect yourself from a possible recurrence:

  • Give yourself plenty of breaks between workouts
  • Warm up and stretch before and after exercise
  • Choose shoes that provide good support for the foot
  • Avoid running in minimalist footwear
  • Make sure you eat a balanced diet and maintain a healthy weight
  • Wear foot orthoses 

It makes even more sense to have a well-established prevention routine if you are an active athlete or suffer from osteoporosis.

Treat and prevent stress fractures effectively with PiedReseau

Whether it’s barely noticeable or more of a nuisance, stress fractures are not to be taken lightly.

This type of injury can actually sometimes indicate that something else is wrong with your posture or the way you play sports.

If left untreated, a stress fracture can keep you from playing your favorite sport for weeks.

Don’t wait to treat it, contact your PiedReseau clinic today.

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