A stress fracture is a tiny crack in the bone. Most stress fractures occur in the lower leg and foot. They can also occur in the hip and other areas. Most stress fractures can heal spontaneously. However, some may lead to complete fractures, or may require surgery.
A blow to the bone does not cause a stress fracture. Rather, it is typically caused by repeated stress or overuse. Some causes are:
Stress fractures can worsen by continued physical stress. Smoking can also make stress fractures worse because it interferes with bone healing.
A risk factor is something that increases your chance of getting a disease or condition. Risk factors for a stress fracture include:
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history, and examine the injured area for localized pain and swelling.
Tests may include:
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can relieve pain, but controversy exists about their use for stress fractures. It is possible that NSAIDs adversely affect stress fracture healing.
Rest is the most important thing you can do for a stress fracture. This includes avoiding the activity that caused the fracture and any other activities that cause pain. Rest time required is at least 6-8 weeks.
Crutches or a Cane
You may need crutches or a walking cane to keep pressure off the leg.
Talk with your doctor about when you can restart activity and how to progress with the amount and type of activity.
A common progression:
To reduce your chance of getting a stress fracture:
American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine
American Podiatric Medical Association
Canadian Orthopaedic Association
Canadian Orthopaedic Foundation
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Sanderlin BW, Raspa RF. Common stress fractures. Am Fam Physician. 2003;68(8):1527. Available athttp://www.aafp.org/afp/2003/1015/p1527.html.
Stress fractures. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website. Available at: http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00112 . Updated October 2007. Accessed June 25, 2008.
Stress fractures. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research website. Available at: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/stress-fractures/DS00556. Updated November 3, 2006. Accessed June 25, 2008.
Wells CL. Women, Sport & Performance: A Physiological Perspective. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics; 1991.
Wheeler P, Batt ME. Do nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs adversely affect stress fracture healing? A short review. Br J Sports Med. 2005;39:65-69.
Last reviewed September 2012 by John C. Keel, MD