“Practice makes perfect!” Professional athletes and recreational sports enthusiasts are more than familiar with the phrase. It rings true when it comes to building skill, strength, and aptitude. But too much practice can lead to a stress fracture.
As one of the most common sports-related overuse injuries (and most difficult to overcome), stress fractures are a serious threat to both professional and recreational athletes.
Remaining up-to-date on stress fracture prevention techniques, however, can help reduce the likelihood of experiencing this type of injury.
The Sports Medicine and Foot and Ankle Specialists at EmergeOrtho—Triangle Region have decades of experience in addressing a wide variety of sports injuries—including stress fractures. Our board-certified, fellowship-trained physicians have worked extensively in the sports medicine field, gaining ample knowledge of how to best treat and prevent injuries in all parts of the body.
Who is Most at Risk for a Stress Fracture?
As stated above, stress fractures are one of the most common sports-related injuries caused by overuse. The injury occurs when the muscles become fatigued to the point that they are unable to absorb added shock. The muscles then pass the overload of stress onto the bones, which can lead to a small crack in the bone. Most stress fractures occur in the weight-bearing bones of the lower leg and foot.
The most typical type of stress fracture symptom involves varying degrees of pain with activity. Usually, this pain subsides with rest.
In addition to overuse, additional factors that increase the risk of a stress fracture include:
- Continuous use of improper form/equipment
- An abrupt increase in physical activity intensity/duration/distance
- Insufficient breaks from physically demanding activities
- Harsh impact on the foot from an unfamiliar surface
Gymnastics, basketball, tennis, and track and field often produce the majority of sports-related stress fractures—an unsurprising conclusion when considering what these sports have in common. They all demand physically taxing footwork—all of which can lead to trauma in the lower leg and foot.
Although stress fractures can occur to anyone at any age, they are more common among female athletes. This is due to women generally losing more bone mass than men. Weaker bones mean a greater chance of a stress fracture occurring.
What Are Stress Fracture Treatment Options?
Most stress fractures can heal with proper rest. It typically takes six to eight weeks for stress fractures to fully heal, making it critical that the affected area rests during this time. Only pain-free activity that causes no stress to the area is permitted. Orthotics or braces can also aid in the healing of a stress fracture.
If stress-inducing physical activity is resumed before the stress fracture is fully healed, it can lead to larger stress fractures that are more difficult to heal. In severe cases, a reinjured stress fracture may never heal properly, leading to chronic pain problems.
In some severe cases, especially concerning the foot and ankle, surgery may be required. Small pins, screws, and/or plates are implanted to hold the bones together during a process called internal fixation.
Stress Fracture Prevention Techniques
Luckily, stress fractures are generally easy to prevent if the right precautions are taken. To help reduce the risk of developing stress fractures, the following strategies are recommended:
- Pace Yourself
Set incremental goals. Do not push yourself beyond your limits or physical capacity. Gradually build up to your desired activity level.
Keeping the body guessing via muscle confusion is key to staying fit and preventing injuries. If you do one type of exercise repetitively, your muscles will get used to the motion. Then, when you suddenly participate in a different type of exercise, your muscles could be more susceptible to injury. By training in different exercises, such as strength training and yoga, you keep your muscles flexible and strong.
- Eat Healthily
Maintaining a healthy weight is critical to alleviating as much stress to the muscles and bones as possible. Incorporating foods rich in calcium and Vitamin D will help strengthen the bones.
- Use Proper Form and Equipment
Proper form and equipment are key to performing complicated athletic moves without injury. Make sure your shoes are comfortable, fit well, are in good condition, and provide proper support. Any other necessary sports equipment should also follow these general guidelines.
- Take Breaks
It is important to never overexert your body. Even if you are not experiencing pain, take breaks in between rounds and practices. Your muscles need time to recover so they can properly absorb stress and shocks.
- Rest When Necessary
Paying close attention to the first initial signs of a stress fracture is key to preventing it from causing chronic issues. If you start to experience pain in the lower leg and/or foot with activity, rest immediately and cease the physical activity that you suspect caused it. This also means abstaining from high-impact activities until you have been evaluated by an experienced orthopedic doctor.
Stress No More With EmergeOrtho—Triangle Region
By making some healthy lifestyle modifications, utilizing proper techniques and equipment, and incorporating varying forms of exercise, you can successfully create a stress fracture prevention plan that works for you. However, if you need urgent care stress fracture attention, or suspect you may even have a pre-stress fracture, EmergeOrtho—Triangle Region is here to help. We have several convenient locations throughout the Greater Triangle Area from which to choose—many with flexible hours.
Schedule an appointment with one of our highly qualified EmergeOrtho–Triangle Region doctors. Or, call us any time at 984.666.2201.