What Is a Stress Fracture?
A stress fracture is a tiny crack in a bone.
What Causes Stress Fractures?
Stress fractures usually happen from repeating the same movement over and over (such as when someone trains for a sport). They also can happen from everyday activities in people whose bones are weak due to poor nutrition or a medical condition.
What Are the Signs & Symptoms of a Stress Fracture?
If you have a stress fracture, you might notice:
- pain when exercising that may or may not go away after rest
- mild swelling and redness
The lower leg and the foot are the most common areas to get a stress fracture. But they also can happen in other areas, such as the arm, spine, or ribs.
How Are Stress Fractures Diagnosed?
To diagnose a stress fracture, your health care provider will first ask about your general health and activities (such as sports). Then he or she will do an exam to check for tenderness, swelling, or redness. X-rays are usually done.
Some stress fractures don't show up on an X-ray until a few weeks after the bone starts hurting. Sometimes an MRI scan or a bone scan is needed.
How Are Stress Fractures Treated?
The most important parts of recovering from a stress fracture are:
- resting the injured area
- taking a break from sports
If you have pain from a stress fracture, you can:
- Place a cold compress or ice wrapped in a towel on the area for about 15 minutes three times a day.
- Take pain medicine as recommended by the health care provider.
Nutritional or psychological counseling can help if a stress fracture happens because of poor nutrition or an eating disorder.
What Can I Do While Healing From a Stress Fracture?
Ask the health care provider if you can exercise a part of the body that does not have the stress fracture. For example, if you have a stress fracture in your foot, you might be able to do arm and shoulder exercises. This can help you stay active during healing.
After a few weeks, your health care provider may give you the OK to slowly start to increase activity. The provider may recommend physical therapy to help you safely return to sports.
Can Stress Fractures Be Prevented?
To help prevent stress fractures:
- Eat a healthy diet that includes plenty of calcium and vitamin D.
- Know that the risks of smoking include slowed healing of broken bones.
If you're very active or play sports:
- Always warm up before practices and meets.
- Start any new activity or exercise slowly.
- Slowly increase how long and how hard you train.
- Stop any activity or exercise if pain or swelling starts.
- Use the right sports equipment, especially supportive shoes in good condition.
If found early and treated correctly, most stress fractures heal well. But going back to activities too soon can make a tiny stress fracture larger and harder to heal.
Follow the doctor's directions so that you can get back to activities and sports as soon as possible.Back to Articles
Bones are tough stuff - but even tough stuff can break. Find out what happens when a bone fractures.Read More
Sports and Exercise Safety
Playing hard doesn't have to mean getting hurt. The best way to ensure a long and injury-free athletic career is to play it safe from the start. Find out how.Read More
How Broken Bones Heal
Broken bones have an amazing ability to heal. New bone forms within a few weeks of the injury, although full healing can take longer.Read More
This article for teens has tips on taking care of a cast so it keeps working as it should.Read More
A splint is a support device that keeps an injured area from moving. Doctors often use splints to hold bones and joints in place so they can heal after a fracture.Read More
Compulsive exercise can lead to serious health problems. Lots of people don't know when they've crossed the line from healthy activity to unhealthy addiction. Read about ways to tell.Read More
Dealing With Sports Injuries
You practiced hard and made sure you wore protective gear, but you still got hurt. Read this article to find out how to take care of sports injuries - and how to avoid getting them.Read More
Eating disorders are so common in America that 1 or 2 out of every 100 students will struggle with one. Find out more.Read More
Your parents were right to make you drink milk when you were little. It's loaded with calcium, a mineral vital for building strong bones and teeth.Read More
This site has tips on things like preparing for a new season, handling sports pressure, staying motivated, and dealing with injuries.Read More
Overuse (or repetitive stress) injuries happen when too much stress is placed on a part of the body, causing problems like swelling, pain, muscle strain, and tissue damage.Read More
Strains and Sprains
Sprains and strains are common injuries, especially for people who play hard or are into sports. Find out what they are and how to recuperate from one.Read More
Safety Tips: Running
Injuries can be common, and runners should always be aware of their surroundings. To keep things safe while running, follow these tips.Read More
Bones, Muscles, and Joints
Our bones, muscles, and joints form our musculoskeletal system and enable us to do everyday physical activities.Read More
A greenstick fracture is a type of broken bone. The bone cracks on one side only, not all the way through the bone.Read More
Healthy knees are needed for many activities and sports and getting hurt can mean some time sitting on the sidelines.Read More
A buckle or torus fracture is a type of broken bone. One side of the bone bends, raising a little buckle, without breaking the other side of the bone. Teens don't usually get this type of fracture.Read More
A comminuted fracture is a type of broken bone. The bone is broken into more than two pieces.Read More
Broken Collarbone (Clavicle Fracture)
A broken collarbone is one of the most common types of broken bones. Find out how it can happen - and how to treat and avoid fractures.Read More