What is a Stress Fracture?


What's a stress fracture? Read here. Image of Stress Fracture

Stress Fracture

Stress fractures are small cracks in the bone and usually occur in the shin. They can occur with overuse injuries and high impact exercise.. 

The lower leg bones can have stress fractures with increasing running and weightlifting activities too quickly. If activity is not progressed slowly, small cracks can appear in the bones. 


What is a Stress Fracture?

A stress fracture is a tiny crack in a bone caused by repetitive stress or force, usually from overuse.The lower leg bones includes the tibia and fibula. The tibia is the most common bone involved in stress fracture injuries. The tissue surrounding the tibia and fibula includes muscles and tendons. 

Muscles and tendons can become tight around the bones. This can protect the bone from a stress fracture..


Symptoms of a Stress Fracture or Microfracture

The most common symptoms of stress fractures are pain, swelling and tenderness in the front of the lower leg. Pain, swelling and tenderness may increase with activity and decrease when stopping or decreasing the activity. 

So, pay close attention to these signs and symptoms when increasing intensity and weight with activities. The most common cause of a stress fracture is overuse. 

Overuse can occur when changing activities, sports, or job duties or exercise.

Other causes include sports that require a lot of running and jumping. These can increase the risk for stress fractures. Osteoporosis can decrease bone density and weaken the bones of the lower leg. This can also increase the individual's risk for stress fractures. 

Physicians may order test to diagnose stress fractures. These may include X-Ray, CT scan, nuclear bone scan and MRI. These are the types of test used to determine the severity of the stress fracture.


Treatment of Stress Fractures

The treatment options used to help heal stress fractures are ultimately decreasing or stopping the activity that causes pain. Rest from the activity for four to six weeks is usually needed.  In severe cases, 8 weeks of rest may be needed. The patient is usually placed in a walking boot for stress fractures. 

This does not mean stopping all activities but it does mean the individual will need to be involved in low loading exercises to keep the muscles strong and range of motion normal in the lower leg musculature. The individual will need to also have a medical professional look at his shoe wear and possibly be fitted for shoe inserts that will help decrease stress on the lower leg bones during running or athletic events. 

Other conservative measures include physical therapy which will look  muscular restrictions which could be causing undue stress on the lower leg. The physical therapist will prescribe appropriate exercises to perform while resting from activity.

Some examples of different types of exercises include; stretching and foam rolling the leg muscles, thera-band to increase the strength in the legs, balance exercises which will help improve the response of the lower leg muscles.  Low impact cardio equipment may be used to help with muscular endurance. 

The best way to prevent stress fractures is to wear proper shoes. Start out an exercise program slowly and progress only when comfortable with the exercise. Performing stretching and mobility drills before and after training that will help limit stress to the lower legs. Take time to cool down properly after exercise.

The Jacksonville Orthopedic Institute has the team you need to help with a stress fracture. Come see us!


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JOI Fracture and Injury Care

JOI Physicians are currently offering ASAP fracture and injury care. This is a new option for patients who would like to avoid the emergency room if they have suffered a fracture or soft tissue injury. To learn more about this service, read this article about fracture and injury care. Make an appointment by calling (904)JOI-2000.


By: Andrew Heideman, PT/ATC

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