A stress fracture is a hairline crack in the bone which can take the form of a single fracture or multiple cracks. Whilst the problem can occur suddenly, it is most common that patients experience pain on exercise, which subsides at rest. Over time the pain becomes more intense and rest fails to completely remove pain. In some cases small fractures can cause no pain at all, until the fracture develops further.
A problem arises when trying to diagnose hairline fractures in bones, as X-Ray photographs lack the resolution to accurately diagnose the problem. Whilst there are other tests which can be used, the expense often makes them appropriate for top athletes. With a limited arsenal of tests, a stress fracture foot diagnosis becomes more difficult. Timescale is a key factor, the exact location of pain, and when the pain presents itself. A doctor will be able to make a fairly accurate assessment based on the nature of the pain and from a brief history.
Stress fracture foot injuries occur mainly in athletes or those with an active lifestyle and are usually the result of repetitive strain on the foot. Those who have just started an active lifestyle are at risk if the body is not given time to condition to the new activity. When training programs become intense, the body cannot initially cope with the strain. In these cases a stress fracture foot injury occurs when the muscles become fatigued. With the musculature and he plantar fascia working inefficiently the brunt of the strike force is taken by the bones, and fractures can develop.
A look at certain risk factors helps to determine if a stress fracture is likely, and whether extra precautions need to be taken. Fractures occur more commonly in women, and are exacerbated by irregular periods, eating disorders, bad nutrition and osteoporosis. A diet which is low in calcium or vitamin D can lead to the poor development of bone, a common problem among women who are trying to control their weight. Avoidance of the fatty dairy products can lead to calcium deficiencies causing weakened bones which are prone o fractures.
The bones which are most commonly subject to stress fracture foot injuries are the second and third metatarsals of the foot, and also the heel. The heel takes the full force of the body, and is prone to fracture from overuse. The metatarsals are made to take more of the body weight when the muscles and plantar fascia become fatigued. Pain in the ball of the foot, pain on the top of the foot and pain in the heel could be indicative of a foot stress fracture. A combination of stress fracture foot symptoms is usually enough for an accurate diagnosis, with X-rays only showing up stress fractures which have started to heal.
Once diagnosed, the problem is treated with rest, with casts rarely used however crutches are highly beneficial. Leg or foot splints can be used to ensure the foot and lower leg remain straight to give the bones the maximum chance of a quick recovery. The recovery time and method of treatment will depend on the location and the severity of the fracture, with surgery reserved for only the most severe cases and full breaks.