A stress fracture is a small crack in a bone caused by overuse and repetitive impact. In the feet, stress fractures most often occur in weight-bearing bones, primarily the metatarsal bones (the long bones in the forefoot).
While stress fractures may begin as a small crack in the bone, they can progress quickly if left untreated. Consult a physician as soon as possible if you are experiencing sharp pain in your foot.
Causes of stress fractures
Stress fractures in the bones of the feet are generally caused by overuse. When muscles are fatigued during physical activities, they are no longer able to absorb as much impact from running or jumping. As a result, the stress of impact is transferred to the bones of the feet. This type of repetitive stress can produce small cracks and slivers in the bone.
Stress fractures are a common sports injury that can occur following any type of high impact activity, including running on hard surfaces, gymnastics, volleyball, and basketball. However, anyone who suddenly increases the intensity of a workout, whether they are new to exercise or are a seasoned athlete, is at risk of developing a stress fracture.
Other factors that can increase the risk of developing a stress fracture include:
Stress fracture symptoms
Stress fractures have one primary symptom: pain on top of the foot or outside of the ankle. The pain will increase with any type of weight-bearing activity or bending of the feet. Swelling and bruising may also occur.
Because stress fractures are caused by overuse and not any kind of definitive trauma to the foot, they can be difficult to recognize right away. It is important to see your doctor if you are experiencing any type of recurring sharp pain in the feet.
Treatment of stress fractures
Treatment of stress fractures in the feet will depend on the extent of damage to the bone. The first step is always to rest the foot.
If a stress fracture is diagnosed right away, it can often be treated with nonsurgical options, including immobilization of the foot with protective footwear, crutches (to keep weight off the foot), or a foot cast.
Severe stress fractures may require surgery. The goal of the procedure will be to keep the bones together with pins, screws, or plates to allow proper healing.
To determine the best course of treatment, you should visit your doctor at the first signs of a stress fracture in your foot.