The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine

Stress!! Fractures

Posted by on Tuesday, March 13th, 2012

You know how you feel when you’re stressed out? Tired? Scatter-brained? Weak? All over the place? Like you just can’t take any more weight on you? Like you’re about to break?

Well, your foot can feel that way, too. Welcome to the not so wonderful world of stress fractures.

If you’re a fan of any sport, you’re probably already familiar with stress fractures. The story always starts with something simple like, “Player X didn’t practice today because of pain in his foot.” Next you hear “Player X is going to have his foot examined,” followed by, “Player X will be out several weeks with a stress fracture,” or “Player X is having surgery to repair a stress fracture.” It concludes with “Player X says, ‘I’m shocked. I didn’t really do anything to my foot. I never thought it was a fracture.'”

And that’s the truly nasty part of stress fractures–they sneak up on you. So let’s investigate the world of stress fractures…

What is a stress fracture? Can I fracture my foot by being stressed because I forgot to buy coffee  and I have a project due? Not that kind of stress, but actually this one is almost as simple as the name. Stress fractures come when the muscles around a bone are too tired or not strong enough to absorb impact anymore, so the pounding is transferred to the bones. After a while, the bones begin to crack.

Wait, how does that happen? Why are my muscles being so darn lazy and letting my bones crack like that? Hold on one second, don’t pick on your poor muscles! Well, actually if you have a stress fracture, you probably already are. Stress fractures are overuse injuries. If you’re running too much, jumping too much, or doing anything else on your foot too much, then your muscles are going to wear out and leave your bones unprotected. As you may guess from that description runners, dancers, gymnasts, tennis players and extremely large basketball players are all good candidates for foot stress fractures.

Stress fractures can also happen to people with weak bones, such as those with osteoarthritis or poor nutritional habits. You know those tiny little teen and preteen gymnasts and figure skaters who pop up on our Olympic radars every few years? Well, the pressure to stay thin can cause them to develop poor eating habits, which can lead to problems with their menstrual periods, either by delaying them or causing them to miss them. This can lead to brittle bones. Mix that with overtraining in high impact sports and you’ve got a recipe for foot stress fractures.

Umm…my foot hurts. How do I know if it’s a stress fracture or just something like my foot hurting? It’s a little tricky to diagnose a foot stress fracture on your own, but here are some things to look out for:

  • foot pain when you do an activity that puts an impact on your foot, then goes away when you’re resting your foot;
  • increasing foot pain during normal activities;
  • swelling on your foot or around your ankle;
  • bruises on top of your foot when you haven’t dropped your entire set of Harry Potter books on your foot (and if you do that, congratulations, you just fractured your foot, no stress required. Go to the ER.).

The best way to diagnose a foot stress fracture, though, is just to see a podiatrist at The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine to find out for certain if you have a fracture.

Okay, I have a foot stress fracture. What happens now? I can still keep running as long as I don’t overdo it, right? Sorry, silly runner people, you’re going to have to take a break for your fracture (get it? break? fracture? joke!). The cure for most stress fractures is simply rest. You will need to avoid high impact activities for a while, and your doctor may put you in a walking boot for a few weeks to take pressure off your foot during normal activity, unless you’re the kind of person who can have Air Force One ferry you around.

Serious foot stress fractures may require surgery in order to have pins or plates put into your foot to hold the bones in place while they heal. You may need to wear a cast.

I am not a couch potato. What kind of workout can I do? I can keep running in my walking boot, right? Oh, runner people, I know you too well. No, again, you cannot run or do high impact activities while your stress fracture is healing. You probably can swim (if your foot isn’t in a cast) and may be able to do some cycling. Don’t do any of these activities without consulting your podiatrist, though.

Hooray! My foot fracture is healed! How can I make sure this doesn’t happen again? Stress fractures are overuse injuries, so don’t overuse! Increase your training gradually, so you can build up strength. If you haven’t been running for a while, ease back into it slowly. Make sure your shoes fit and aren’t worn out, of course. Work on strengthening your feet. Many pros  recommend cross-training, so you’re not perpetually attacking the same group of muscles and bones. Did you enjoy biking or swimming while your stress fracture was healing? Then keep it up. Throw in some weight training, too. Are you a young basketball player? Then play basketball during basketball season, but then try some other sports during the rest of the year. Swim, play hockey, try fencing. Playing multiple sports will make you better at your favorite, too. Finally, don’t forget about your diet. Make sure you’re getting enough calcium and Vitamin D every day so you build strong bones.

If you have any kind of pain in your foot, the best way to deal with it is to see a podiatrist. Contact us at The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine. Dr. Josef J. GeldwertDr. Katherine Lai, and Dr. Ryan Minara have helped thousands of people get back on their feet.

If you have any foot problems or pain, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports MedicineDr. Josef J. GeldwertDr. Katherine Lai, and Dr. Ryan Minara have helped thousands of people get back on their feet. Unfortunately, we cannot give diagnoses or treatment advice online. Please make an appointment to see us if you live in the NY metropolitan area or seek out a podiatrist in your area.