Stress fractures are considered an overuse injury. In the foot, they most commonly occur on the second and third metatarsal bones. They are also possible on the calcaneus, or heel, and the navicular bone, which is on the top of the foot. Putting pressure on a foot after suffering a stress fracture can be painful and can interrupt your daily life, especially any physical activities you do. With the right treatment, recovery is very possible.
Several factors can cause a stress fracture in a foot. An increase in physical activity, especially high-impact activity, makes you more likely to develop a stress fracture. An error in technique or training can cause a fracture as well. Any kind of change in your normal routine, such as an increase in the frequency or duration of activity or wearing shoes that are worn or stiff, can result in a stress fracture. A bone density insufficiency, like osteoporosis, can also be a cause of stress fracture.
Signs and Symptoms
The main sign of a stress fracture is pain that fades as you rest and stay off the foot. You may notice pain becomes more intense when pressure is put on that particular foot. You may also notice swelling on the top of the foot or ankle. Your foot will be tender to touch at the site of the fracture and will possibly bruise.
After taking a complete medical history, your doctor will assess your options. If there is suspicion of a fracture, the doctor will send you to get an MRI. An MRI will show any fractures of the bones in the foot. Typically, an X-ray isn't used because it doesn't usually pick up foot stress fractures until they have begun to heal.
For most stress fractures, treatment will be basic first aid. Keep the foot elevated above the heart and rested. Apply ice to help with pain and swelling. Take ibuprofen for the pain and swelling. Stay off the foot as much as possible to facilitate healing. Some stress fractures may require surgically implanting pins to secure the bones of the foot. For the majority of foot stress fractures, recovery takes six to eight weeks with a gradual return to activity.
To prevent stress fractures in your feet, exercise regularly, ideally 30 minutes a day. Alternate your physical activities so your feet don't experience repeated stress. Wear properly fitted for shoes that are appropriate for the activity. Follow a healthy diet rich in vitamin D and calcium to help keep bones strong.