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 tenderness 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 Sometimes a stress fracture will need a cast, splint, or brace. Rarely, surgery is needed. 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. Looking Ahead 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 Related Articles Broken Bones 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 Casts This article for teens has tips on taking care of a cast so it keeps working as it should. Read More Splints 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 Compulsive exercise can lead to serious health problems. 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Read More Buckle Fractures 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 Comminuted Fractures 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 Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor. © 1995-2021 KidsHealth®. All rights reserved. Images provided by The Nemours Foundation, iStock, Getty Images, Veer, Shutterstock, and Clipart.com.