A stress fracture is a small crack in the bone that is usually caused by repetitive actions that place stress on the bone. These fractures, also known as hairline fractures, are commonly seen in the foot and lower leg of athletes. However, it’s not just athletes that can get a stress fracture. Anyone that has just started a new exercise or abruptly increased the intensity of their workout is at risk of developing a fracture.
Preventing a stress fracture
It goes without saying that the best way to stop a stress fracture is to avoid one in the first place. Stress fractures happen because of the damage experienced by the bone after sustained, repetitive use. Consider some of the following tips to avoid them1:
1- Start slowly
The single most common cause of stress fractures is a sudden increase in physical activity2. To stop this from happening, make any changes to your exercise routine slowly. Start new workout programs gradually. Stress fractures can happen if you
- suddenly start exercising more days per week,
- start running longer distances (if you’re a runner), or
- go from a period of inactivity to full-on exercise.
2- Mind your diet
To keep your bones strong, your diet should include adequate calcium, vitamin D, and other nutrients that help build and reinforce bone density. Pay attention to the following nutrients:
Vitamin D: Stress fractures are more common in the winter months. The lack of sunlight leads to vitamin D deficiency  which makes bones more brittle.
Calcium: The body needs calcium for other vital functions. If your calcium intake is not adequate, your cells will start to remove calcium from your bones to make up the short fall.
Paying attention to your diet is important. If you’re not able to get all your daily nutrients from healthy, well-rounded meals then use bone and joint supplements to make sure you’re getting your recommended amounts of vitamins and minerals.
3- Use proper footwear
Make sure your shoes fit well and are appropriate for your activity. If you have flat feet, ask your doctor about arch supports for your shoes or visit your local running store for expert advice.
Add other low-impact activities like walking, swimming, gym-sessions, or yoga to your exercise regimen. This avoids repetitively stressing a particular part of your body again and again by giving it a break.
5- Other details to watch out for
Anything that alters the mechanics of how your foot absorbs impact as it strikes the ground may increase your risk of a stress fracture. For example, if you have a blister, bunion, or tendonitis, it can affect how you put weight on your foot when you walk or run.
Change in surface
A change in training or playing surfaces, such as a tennis player going from a grass court to a hard court or a runner moving from a treadmill to an outdoor track, can increase the risk of a stress fracture.
Tips for healing
If you do suffer from a stress fracture, it is important to give the bone time to heal. This may take several months or even longer. In the meantime:
- Rest. Stay off the affected limb as directed by your doctor until you are cleared to bear normal weight.
- Ice. To reduce swelling and relieve pain, your doctor might recommend applying ice packs to the injured area as needed — up to three or four times a day for 15 minutes at a time.
- Resume activity slowly. When your doctor gives the okay, slowly progress from non-weight-bearing activities — such as swimming — to your usual activities. Resume high-impact activities, such as running, gradually, increasing time and distance slowly.
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1- Mayo clinic. Stress fracture. August 2017. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/stress-fractures/manage/ptc-20232190
2- American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.Orthoinfo. Stress fractires of the foot and ankle. http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=a00379