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A stress fracture is an overuse injury that affects the bone. Although it’s common in physical activities that involve running and jumping, it can also happen to people who participate in low-impact games like golf.
Stress fractures commonly affect the weight-bearing bones of the lower extremities such as the thigh bone, shinbone, ankle bone, and the bones of the toes. In women, the pelvic bone is also a common site of stress fractures. The high incidence rate of stress fractures in the female population is largely attributed to hormones, osteoporosis, and menopause.
In a nutshell, stress fracture results when muscles are given a sudden increase in workload without allowing them ample time to adjust.
Understanding stress fractures
Under normal circumstances, several structures (muscles, ligaments, bones, and joints) help cushion your body against the stress generated when you walk, run, or jump. Over time, the bones adapt to the increase in stress level. (See also: 7 Ways for Men to Chase Stress Away)
However, if you rapidly increase your physical activity with little to no breaks in between, the repetitive stress will cause muscles fatigue. Thus, when muscles become exhausted and overworked, they become ineffective at absorbing additional shock. The stress overload is transferred to the bones, resulting in a hairline crack.
Risk Factors for Stress Fractures
- Gender. Females are more prone to stress fractures than their male counterparts
- Older people with fragile bones
- A sudden increase in the intensity and duration of physical activity
- Involvement in any sports activities that involve jumping and running
- Low bone density
- Running on uneven surfaces
- Poor joint flexibility
- Nutritional deficiency
- Poor muscle strength to sustain activities
- Use of improper footwear and equipment
- Bone conditions like osteoporosis
- Gradually increase the intensity and duration of your exercise.
- Warm-up and cool-down before and after participating in sports activities.
- Wear appropriate clothing and footwear. Once your shoes start losing shape, buy a new that has adequate support and protection.
- As much as possible, run or jog on smooth and even ground only.
- Get adequate rest in between training, workouts, or games.
- Maintain a healthy and a balanced diet. Make sure to consume foods that rich in calcium and Vitamin D.
- Once you notice some swelling or pain, stop whatever you’re doing immediately. If the pain isn’t relieved by rest, consult your doctor immediately.
The most common symptom of a stress fracture is a dull pain which intensifies with activity and subsides with rest. It may also be accompanied by swelling. Therefore, you need to avoid any task or movement which can further aggravate the pain.
One of the first aid treatments you can do at home is the RICE method:
- Rest the injured part for 6-8 weeks (the usual time that it takes for a stress fracture to heal) or as recommended by your doctor. You cannot resume your activities unless you have fully recovered because once an injury happens again, it will take a longer time for the bones to heal. Limit movements that include the fractured bone.
- Apply an ice pack for no more than 15 minutes at a time every 3-4 hours for the first 24-48 hours.
- If applicable, wrap the injured area with an elastic bandage to immobilize and stabilize it.
- Elevate the affected area to reduce swelling.
In addition to RICE, consider taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs as needed for pain and swelling. In the future, incorporate more cross-training into your workout regimen so you’re not always focusing on one or two muscle groups alone. You can do low-impact exercises, strength training, and other cardio workouts in between your usual routine.
During recovery, use assistive devices like a walker or a cane to avoid putting additional stress on your bones and limit weight bearing on the injured limb. Older adults who sustain a stress fracture secondary to osteoporosis can use a rollator walker with a reliable brake system for safety and comfort as these are easier to use than the standard walker.
Participate in physical therapy sessions as these can help in strengthening your muscles and improving bone strength. Surgical repair for a stress fracture is rare but may be needed if the bone is healing slowly.
A stress fracture can heal on its own with adequate rest. However, while you are on your way to recovery, you should avoid doing the physical activity that caused the injury as it can result in an even bigger stress fracture. If the pain and discomfort aren’t relieved despite following these tips, consult your doctor for a more specific medical intervention.
About The Author:
Joe Fleming is the President at ViveHealth.com. Interested in all things related to living a healthy lifestyle, he enjoys sharing and expressing his passion through writing. Working to motivate others and defeat aging stereotypes, Joe uses his writing to help all people overcome the obstacles of life. Covering topics that range from physical health, wellness, and aging all the way to social, news, and inspirational pieces…the goal is to help others “rebel against age”.