Stress fractures are sometimes barely noticeable at first – a tender area with pain and some swelling that normally subsides when you rest. However, over time stress fractures can worsen and you may experience pain even when you are not using the affected area.
What are stress fractures?
Stress fractures are tiny cracks in the bone that often occur as the result of overuse – making repetitive movements that place the bones under too much stress. Increasing the amount or intensity of an activity too quickly puts you at particular risk of a stress fracture because the bone hasn’t had sufficient time to adapt to the increased load (using a natural process called remodelling). Stress fractures can also develop in bones that are weakened due to conditions like osteoporosis.
Who is at risk?
Anyone can develop a stress fracture, however you may be particularly at risk if you participate in high impact sports such as running, tennis or dance, or you make a sudden shift from a sedentary to a more active lifestyle or you rapidly increase the intensity of your training schedule. Women may be particularly at risk, along with those who have previously had a stress fracture or who have weakened bones or poor nutrition. Worn footwear can also contribute to stress fractures.
Symptoms of stress fractures
Symptoms that may indicate a stress fracture include pain, which tends to improve when you rest but which may gradually worsen over time. The affected area may feel tender and it may appear swollen.
How are stress fractures diagnosed?
It’s important to get a stress fracture properly diagnosed as a fracture of this type that doesn’t heal properly can increase the likelihood of chronic problems and may leave you prone to further stress fractures in the future.
At W27, we take a range of different approaches to diagnosing stress fractures. We will begin with a detailed patient history, asking about when and how you noticed the pain and what type of activities you’d been doing. We will carry out a physical examination, testing for areas of pain, tenderness and swelling. Next, we will perform detailed imaging tests to confirm our diagnosis.
While X-ray is the normal imaging technique for ordinary fractures, a stress fracture may not show up immediately on an X-ray. In fact, it can take up to a month to be able to see this type of fracture clearly using X-ray. An MRI scan is normally the most reliable way to diagnose stress fractures as it creates detailed images of your bones and soft tissues using radio waves and a strong magnetic field. Stress fractures will show up on an MRI before they are visible on an X-ray. We may also recommend a CT, ultrasound or specialised bone scan. Sometimes more than one stress fracture is identified.
Most stress fractures will heal by themselves if you rest the affected area and reduce the bone’s weight-bearing load (for example by using crutches or a boot). In some cases, however, particularly in areas where there is a poor blood supply, you might need surgery to ensure you heal completely. Surgery may also be offered to athletes who need to make a quick recovery.
If you are diagnosed with a stress fracture, you will need to avoid putting any weight on the affected limb while it heals. Ice packs can help to reduce the swelling and relieve pain, along with anti-inflammatories. When you start to use the limb again, begin gradually with activities that avoid putting pressure on the fracture – swimming is idea – and build up gradually to avoid another stress fracture.
Preventing stress fractures
One of the most effective ways to avoid stress fractures is to build up your strength and stamina slowly when you train and to listen to your body. If something hurts, stop. Always use the right footwear for any kind of sport and check for signs of wear. A mix of low impact and high impact activities are ideal to avoid repetitive strain injuries and eat a healthy balanced diet to keep your bones strong.
If you have suffered a sporting injury, whether due to an accident or as a result of long-term damage, contact W27 for specialist advice and diagnosis.
SPORTS INJURY TREATMENT | MANCHESTER, LONDON, CHESHIRE + MORE
W27 provides fast, accurate diagnosis and treatment of musculoskeletal symptoms and conditions using the latest state-of-the-art imaging facilities.
For your appointment there is a choice of locations:
The OrthTeam Centre Ohm Building – 168 Barlow Moor Road, Manchester, M20 2AF
Euxton Hall Hospital – Wigan Road, Euxton, Chorley, PR7 6DY
MedSerena Upright MRI Centre Manchester – 26-28 The Boulevard, Manchester, M20 2EU
The John Charnley Wing, Wrightington Hospital – Hall Lane, Appley Bridge, Wigan, WN6 9EP
The Spire Manchester – 170 Barlow Moor Road, Didsbury, Manchester, M20 2AF
MedSerena Upright MRI Centre London – 114a Cromwell Road, Kensington, London, SW7 4ES
HCA The Wilmslow Hospital – 52 Alderley Road, Wilmslow, Cheshire, SK9 1NY
Information about our Fees can be found here.
If you have any questions or would like to discuss your options with a specialist, please contact the team to book an initial consultation.