Have you ever heard the term or been diagnosed with a “stress fracture”? It is a relatively common injury caused by repeat loading/movement on the same bone over time. For example, running long distances increases the “load” or pressure put on the bones in the legs in a repetitive manner. This can cause “stress fractures”.
How are stress fractures developing you ask? In a healthy bone, the cells are actively replacing old cells with new strong cells. If there is too much loading on a bone too quickly and the bone doesn’t have time to prepare, then some of the older cells can break and form a microscopic crack. If this high repetition activity continues, the crack can get larger. Similar to a crack in your car windshield!
Because of the nature of stress fractures, they are more common in the legs – the weight-bearing limbs. They are commonly reported in the shin bone and the little bones of the feet. Factors that can put you at risk for stress fractures include being female, a low bone density, history of stress fractures and low food intake (poor nutrient status).
Treatment will start with education of the issue/mechanism that caused the injury and then a crucial period of rest from this activity. Rest may include using crutches or wearing a weight-bearing foot (Air Cast), depending on the site of injury. Slowly, as the fracture site heals, progressions will include low intensity (non-weight bearing) exercises to maintain muscle and mobility, and then when there has been a consistent report of pain-free rest, physiotherapy works to rehabilitate the area and strengthen muscles to prevent or reduce the chances of re-injury. During this time, physiotherapy will also assess your risk factors and teach you how to modify tasks or the environment.
So next time you hear the phrase “stress fracture”, don’t panic! Book an appointment with one of our physiotherapists to determine the most effective plan for your recovery and safe return to activity.
Caitlinn Thompson, Registered Physiotherapist