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Stress Fractures


stress fracture pittsburgh
Cause of Stress Fracture image

Stress Fractures consist of a small crack, or fracture, in one of the bones of the foot or lower leg. They are most common in the the weight-bearing bones of the foot and lower leg, either in the second and third bones of the mid-foot (metatarsals), the heel (calcaneus), the outer bone of the lower leg (fibula), and the navicular, which is a bone located on the top of the midfoot.

Types of Fractures
The two main types of fractures that occur in the foot and lower leg are metatarsal, which occurs in the main bones of the foot, and phalangeal, which refers to a toe fracture.

Causes of Fractures and Stress Fractures

stress fracture treatment Pittsburgh
Stress Fracture X-Ray

Fractures in the foot or lower leg can be caused by many factors, a few of which are listed below:

  • Sports and other athletic injuries
  • Overuse
  • Tripping and/or falling
  • Kicking a hard object
  • Accidents
  • Repeated stress on the bones
  • Stress Fractures

These occur due to repetitive injury and overusing a bone or joint are the leading causes of Stress Fractures. Some bones in the lower extremity are weakened by osteoporosis. Most stress fractures occur in the in the bones of the lower leg and the foot,  like the metatarsals, that are responsible for weight bearing. Studies have shown that athletes in tennis, track and field, gymnastics, dance, and basketball are considered high risk for stress fractures.

Symptoms of Stress Fractures

Regardless of whether you have a metatarsal or a phalangeal fracture, they share the same common symptoms:

  • Gradual pain that continues to develop, increases with weight on the foot or lower leg, and lessens when rested
  • Bruising and/or swelling of the area
  • Redness and/or tenderness of the area
  • Difficulty putting weight on the affected foot

Treatment For Fractures

Before a treatment plan is determined, an X-ray, or in occasional cases, an MRI or CT scan must be ordered to determine if there is indeed a fracture as well as specifically where it is located.
Treatment for a fracture in the foot or lower leg is dependent on where the fracture is located as well as the severity of the injury. Common treatment options include:

  • Taping, as in taping a fractured toe to an adjacent toe
  • Rest
  • Protective footwear, such as stiff-soled shoes
  • Protective cast
  • Surgery (in rare cases)

Risk Factors

Source: Mayo Clinic

  • Factors that could increase your risk of a fracture include:
  • Participation in sports that are considered high-risk, such as basketball, gymnastics, tennis, track, and dance
  • Increase in intense activity
  • Foot problems, such as flat feet or high rigid arches
  • Weakened bone conditions, such as osteoporosis

Questions To Ask Your Doctor

stress fracture treatment Pittsburgh To ensure that you have a full understanding of your condition and ensuring the best chances for healing in a timely manner, you will want to fully understand your specific injury as well as any treatment involved. Your doctor will want to know:

  • Any activities that make your symptoms better or worse
  • Any other medical conditions
  • Medications and supplements that you take on a regular basis

Keeping your doctor accurately informed is the key to successful treatment. Any change in habits, or things that are out of the norm for you, are things you will want to present to your doctor.


Recovery time from a foot fracture depends on the severity of your injury, its location, and the overall state of your health. Be sure to ask if there are any limitations in regards to physical activity, and be sure to follow your doctor’s follow-up instructions closely. Make the necessary appointments for follow-up treatment and checkups, and be sure to keep the appointments.

FAQs about Stress fractures of the foot:

What does a stress fracture in the foot feel like? A stress fracture in the foot feels like a throbbing aching pain, worse with activcity and better with rest.

Who gets a stress fracture of the foot? This is a common ailment from working on hard surfaces, or running too much.

Where is a stress fracture in the foot? These can often be in the metatarsals, or calcaneus.

What is a stress fracture in the foot? A stress fracture in the foot is a crack, or inflamed area at risk for a crack in the bone, that often hurts as much as a broken bone, and may cause swelling on the top of the foot.

What is the best treatment for a stress fracture in the foot? The treatment of a stress fracture in the foot is rest and immobilization.

What can cause a stress fracture in the foot? Causes of stress fractures in the foot are increasing your running program too quickly, working on ladders, cutting grass, and walking in improper shoe wear.

What is the most common stress fractures in the foot? the most common stress fracture of the foot is a metatarsal stress fracture. This is pain on the top of the foot, just behind the toes.

Are there specific medical conditions that may increase the risk of stress fractures?

Yes, certain medical conditions may increase the risk of stress fractures. Here are some conditions and factors that can contribute to an elevated risk:

  1. Osteoporosis: Reduced bone density and strength make bones more susceptible to stress fractures.
  2. Female Athlete Triad: A combination of disordered eating, amenorrhea (lack of menstrual periods), and osteoporosis can increase the risk of stress fractures, particularly in female athletes.
  3. Hormonal Imbalances: Conditions affecting hormone levels, such as low estrogen in women or low testosterone in men, can impact bone health and increase susceptibility to stress fractures.
  4. Nutritional Deficiencies: Inadequate intake of calcium and vitamin D, essential for bone health, can contribute to weakened bones and a higher risk of stress fractures.
  5. Rheumatoid Arthritis: Inflammatory conditions like rheumatoid arthritis can affect bone health and increase the risk of stress fractures.

What complications can arise if a stress fracture is left untreated?

If a stress fracture is left untreated, several complications can arise, potentially impacting both short-term and long-term health. Some of these complications include:

  1. Chronic Pain: Untreated stress fractures can lead to persistent pain in the affected area, limiting mobility and interfering with daily activities.
  2. Delayed Healing: Lack of proper treatment can impede the natural healing process, causing the fracture to take longer to heal than it would with appropriate care.
  3. Progression to Complete Fracture: A stress fracture left untreated may progress to a complete or displaced fracture, increasing the severity of the injury.
  4. Compromised Bone Strength: Prolonged stress on the bone without adequate rest and treatment can compromise bone strength, making the affected area more susceptible to future injuries.
  5. Deformity or Misalignment: In some cases, untreated fractures can result in deformities or misalignments of the affected bone, affecting overall joint function.