Don’t Stress Out Over Stress Fractures

Finding yourself cutting back on your walking or running mileage—or skipping athletic pursuits altogether—due to aching soreness in the feet that intensifies during activity? There are many possible reasons why this might be the case, but if you’re a regular runner or athlete, stress fractures are a common culprit. While a frustrating injury, they don’t have to stress you out.

Stress fractures are tiny cracks in bone, often located in the midfoot or other weight-bearing areas. They may even be too small to show up on an X-ray, but you’ll definitely feel them. They form as a result of overuse: after too many hard impacts over too short a timeframe (especially in situations where you rapidly increase the duration, frequency, or intensity of activities), the muscles in the feet grow tired and lose their ability to absorb shocks efficiently. The impact forces then transfer directly to the bones.

We’ll start with the bad news: it usually takes about 6-8 weeks to fully heal, so you might be sidelined from your sport or athletic pursuit for a little while. But here’s the good news: in the vast majority of cases, no direct medical intervention is required—by far the most important prescription is rest. If you’re patient and disciplined in giving your body the time it needs to recover, you very likely won’t have to stress out about expensive tests, surgeries, or other more aggressive forms of care.

Now, “rest” does not mean “run a little bit less than usual” or “only play pickup basketball two days per week instead of three.” Rest means you take a full sabbatical from impact exercise for a couple of months, even if you already start to feel better. Subjecting the feet to more stress before the cracks have fully healed can undo the recovery and leave you in even worse shape than before.

That might have you feeling bummed—especially if you’re the active, outdoorsy type—but you may not have to stress out about this either. Depending on our evaluation, you may well be able to keep up your fitness in the meantime by pursuing low-impact or no-impact activity, such as weight training, cycling, or swimming. If necessary, we may also provide some simple tools (like cushioned insoles, orthotics, or protective footwear) to provide some extra security while you heal.

If stress fractures are affecting your feet, don’t let it stress you out—call Dr. Keith McSpadden at North Austin Foot & Ankle Institute and let him help put together a sensible recovery plan. You can request an appointment online, or give us a call at 512-593-2949.

Posted on May 3, 2016 .