Do I need to treat a stress fracture?

Yes, you need to treat a stress fracture. If you think you have a stress fracture, the first thing to do is rest. Stop any activities which may be contributing to the injury. Schedule an appointment and see your doctor. It’s important to follow the treatment guidelines he or she gives you to prevent further injury.

If a stress fracture is not treated, the fracture may get worse. It can heal improperly, lead to arthritis or may even need surgery. Definitely do not ignore the pain. Ignoring the pain can lead to serious problems in the future, so it is important to see your doctor when you start feeling the pain.

If you have an underlying medical condition like diabetes or neuropathy, it is very important to see your doctor if you are experiencing any pain with your legs, ankles or feet.

How is a stress fracture treated?

Stress fractures are treated in several ways. Your doctor will discuss your options based on the location and severity of your fracture. Also, your provider will aim to treat any risk factors you have for future injuries.

Treatments your doctor may recommend can include:

  • Stopping the activity that is causing pain. Stress fractures happen because of repetitive stress and overuse, so it’s important to avoid the activity that led to the fracture.
  • Applying an ice pack (10 minutes) or ice massage (ice cube rub for three to five minutes) to the injured area.
  • Resting for roughly two to eight weeks.
  • Cross training by doing non-impact exercise (like a using a pool or bike) after discussion with your doctor may be allowed. Eventually, once you can perform low-impact activities for extended periods without pain, you can start doing high-impact exercises. Often, physical therapy can be very helpful in returning to activities and making adjustments to avoid reinjury.
  • Adjusting your position if there is swelling in your leg, ankle or foot. You can lessen the swelling by elevating your leg — raising your foot above the level of your heart — while you’re lying on your back.
  • Taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines to help relieve pain and swelling.
  • Using protective footwear to reduce stress on your foot or leg. This may be stiff-soled shoe, a wooden-soled sandal, or a post-op shoe which has a rigid sole.
  • Using crutches to keep weight off your foot or leg until the bone heals.

Will I need a cast if I have a stress fracture?

Your doctor may need to put a cast or fracture boot on your foot to keep the bones in a fixed position. Using a cast or boot help remove the stress on the leg and promote healing.

Do you ever need surgery for a stress fracture?

Some stress fractures need surgery to heal properly. This is called internal fixation. Depending on the location of fracture, the surgeon may use pins, screws or metal plates.

How should I modify my activities when recovering from a stress fracture?

When you are recovering from a stress fracture, it is important to follow your doctor’s instructions. Ignoring your recovery plan and returning to your full activities too quickly can lead to more severe injuries in the future. There are two things to remember when you are starting to exercise again:

  • Take it slowly.
  • Introduce activities that place less stress on the injury.

During the early phase of healing, the doctor may recommend that you change your schedule so that you rest one day, do an activity the next day and then rest the next day. An example of this schedule is:

  • Rest one day.
  • Do an activity the next day.
  • Rest the next day.

Alternating your activity and rest days allow your body to ease back into fitness. You should slowly increase how often and how vigorously you exercise. If the activity that caused the stress fracture is started too quickly, you may develop a larger fracture that is harder to heal. If you re-injure the bone, it can lead to long-term problems, and the stress fracture might never heal properly.

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