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St. Mary's Center for Orthopaedics

Stress Fractures of the Foot

What is a Stress Fracture?

Stress fractures can occur in various bones of the body when an abrupt increase in activity leads to excessive stress on the bone and impairs the bone repair process. Stress fractures are typically associated with recent increase in activity or intense sport/exercise. Stress fractures can also occur when activity increases or resumes after a period of inactivity. In the foot, they are most commonly seen either in the metatarsal bones (bones on top of the foot that join the toes) or the calcaneus (heel bone).

What are the Symptoms of Stress Fractures?

Patients with stress fractures may experience one or more of the following:

  • Pain that is increased by activity and decreased with rest
  • Pain that occurs at a progressively earlier time with each workout
  • Pain that is increased over time
  • Swelling
  • A specific area of the affected bone than feels painful or tender to the touch

How are Stress Fractures Diagnosed?

The diagnosis of a stress fracture is made by your physician via discussion, physical exam, and imaging. An X-ray will initially be done. Stress fractures may not always show up on an initial X-ray. If suspicion for a stress fracture is high, an MRI or bone scan may be obtained to pick up more subtle changes.

How are Stress Fractures Treated?

The key to treatment of stress fractures is rest and avoiding impact activities. On average, it takes 6 to8 weeks for a stress fracture to heal, but sometimes it can take several months. How long it takes and what treatment is used depends on which bone is affected. Some bones require completely laying off of the foot by using crutches. A cam boot is often used to protect and immobilize the foot. To stay fit during the healing period, you may want to focus on upper extremity and core strengthening. Check with your physician first before participating in other non-weight bearing activities.