In your last consult with your doctor, did he or she mention anything about stress fractures? Did he or she clearly explain what the condition is and why you should prevent it? Others patients may also ask, is it a condition caused by physical stress or is it caused by trauma? Who are those most affected by the disease? How do we prevent it? How do we treat it? Some of these questions will be answered in the subsequent paragraphs but in general, you will still have to ask directly your orthopedic surgeon if you want the complete details.
A stress fracture, simply put, is a crack in a bone, and it can be a common injury in areas of your body where there is repetitive application of force, often by overuse. Examples of daily activities that involve overuse include repeatedly jumping up and down or by running long distances. Stress fractures are more likely to occur in the bones of the foot, leg, and pelvis because these areas which absorb the forces created from walking, running, and jumping. In fact, by simply walking, up to 12 times the weight of the body may be generated with each step. The bones, joints, muscles, and ligaments then cushion the body in response to the force to maintain the body’s integrity. Hence, there is stress even without strenuous physical activities.
What are the symptoms? Stress fractures usually cause dull and aching pain around the involved site. This pain worsens while exercising, walking, or even just by standing. Swelling is also evident in some cases wherein the fracture is severe. The pain is often differentiated from other diseases in that the pain of stress fracture progresses from a mild to moderate intensity into that of a severe type, usually in a span of months. Again, this is because of the repetitive forces placed upon a bone over time.
Who are those who are most affected or at risk? Often, stress fractures occur as an overuse injury in athletes or in military recruits, but they can occur any time the lower extremities of the body are overburdened. However, recent studies have shown that the condition has become more common in women, especially those who have osteoporotic bones.
The initial treatment for a stress fracture is to elevate the extremity and rest it while the bone heals itself. Applying cold but dry compress on the affected area for 24 to 48 hours has also shown to be effective. Finally, limit motion on the affected area. For severe cases, it is recommended to seek consult from a physician first. It is rare for stress fractures to be treated with a surgical approach but it is not impossible. Have yourself worked up with laboratory tests and imaging now if you are unsure.