What You Need to Know About Stress Fracture Symptoms and Causes


What is a stress fracture?

Stress fractures are very small cracks in a bone. They’re usually caused by an increase in physical activity that puts stress on your bones, like a new workout routine or training for a marathon. The increased stress on your bones can cause them to crack under the pressure.

Stress fractures typically occur in the legs and feet, the areas of the body that bear the most weight. They’re less common in bones that don’t often take a lot of pressure, like your arms. Activities or sports that involve a lot of repetitive running or jumping, like basketball or tennis, can often be the culprit for getting a stress fracture.

While stress fractures can happen because you’re doing more physical activity than your bones are used to, they can also happen because bones are weak. Even a normal amount of physical activity can cause a stress fracture if someone has weak bones from poor nutrition or a condition like osteoporosis.

Symptoms of a stress fracture

It can be hard to tell if you have a stress fracture at first. You may start out experiencing only a small amount of pain that gets worse as you continue your exercise or other activities, but then feels better again after you rest. It can get to a point that you actually know how long into your run or other exercises that you’ll start to feel the pain and have to stop. Sometimes, the pain can stick around even when you’re resting and get worse over time.

It’s common to have pain or weakness in the area around the stress fracture. You may also feel the pain deep inside the bone of the affected area. It can hurt when you touch the spot where you have a fracture, and you may even experience swelling along with the pain. It’s rare to have bruising or discoloration with a stress fracture, but it can happen.

When to make an appointment

Sometimes stress fractures can heal on their own, but other times the pain may persist and you may need treatment. Without treatment, a stress fracture can get worse and become a break in the bone. After this, it could move out of alignment and cause more issues down the road.

Since they are very small cracks in the bone, sometimes stress fractures can be hard to see on an x-ray. Using a bone scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) instead of an x-ray can make it easier for your doctor to see and diagnose the stress fracture.

In a bone scan, a tracer is injected that settles in the bones are your body works to repair them. This tracer will highlight the stress fracture so your doctor can see it.
An MRI uses a strong magnet to take pictures that help your doctor see the stress fracture in your bone. It produces clearer pictures than an x-ray, so that may make it easier to see the tiny crack.

Stress fractures can also be a sign of osteoporosis or weak bones and may require additional tests to check your bone health.

If you’re experiencing pain from a stress fracture, don’t wait to make an appointment with Midwest Orthopedic Consultants.