How to Recognize and Treat Foot and Ankle Stress Fractures

If you ever experienced a stress fracture, you'd know it right away, wouldn't you? 

You'd think so, but unfortunately, a lot of people write off stress fractures as nothing more than a mild injury they can walk off.

Stress fractures may not be as severe as other injuries, but it's still important to learn how to recognize and treat them. If you don't catch them right away, they can progress and turn into more serious injuries. 

Not sure how to spot a stress fracture in the foot or ankle? Here are some signs and treatment techniques that everyone should know.

What are Stress Fractures?

A stress fracture is a tiny crack in a bone, that is typically brought on by repetitive force and overuse. They're common among athletes, especially distance runners, or those who regularly do a lot of jumping.

Any bone in the body can experience a stress fracture, but they're most common in the weight-bearing bones in the lower legs and/or feet.

It's important to note that you don't have to be an athlete to experience a stress fracture. They can happen to anyone.

Common Causes of Foot and Ankle Stress Fractures

A stress fracture is often the result of repetitive force. They can also occur when someone is too quick when increasing the amount or intensity of the activity they're doing. 

Anyone can experience a stress fracture, but some people are more prone to them than others. The following factors can increase the likelihood that you will suffer from a stress fracture at some point in your life:

  • Participating in sports such as track and field, tennis, basketball, gymnastics, or dancing
  • Using improper techniques while participating in your sport of choice
  • Shifting suddenly from a sedentary lifestyle to an active lifestyle
  • Suddenly shifting the intensity, frequency, or duration of your training sessions
  • Being female (women who have abnormal or absent menstrual periods are especially prone to stress fractures due to hormone imbalances)
  • Having foot problems (high arches, flat feet, etc.)
  • Wearing worn out, unsupportive shoes
  • Poor nutrition or being deficient in nutrients like vitamin D and calcium (both of which are necessary for strengthening the bones and increasing their resistance to fractures)

Having experienced at least one stress fracture in the past also increases your risk of experiencing more in the future.

Foot and Ankle Stress Fracture Symptoms

Pain is the most common symptom you'll experience if you're suffering from a foot or ankle fracture

Most people with a stress fracture in the foot or ankle report pain that comes on gradually, and then gets worse as weight-bearing activity goes on. The pain also gets better with rest.

Other common foot and ankle stress fracture symptoms include:

  • Swelling (especially on the top of the foot or the outside of the ankle)
  • Tenderness when the site of the fracture is touched
  • Bruising (in some cases)

In order to diagnose a stress fracture, your foot and ankle doctor may be able to diagnose clinically, but may order an x-ray or MRI to confirm. 

How to Treat Foot and Ankle Stress Fractures

If you think you might have a stress fracture in your foot or ankle, the first step you should take is to stop activity and rest.

If you try to push through the pain, you could make your injury worse. You may even end up making the fracture worse or breaking the bone altogether.

In addition to rest, it's also important to follow these other treatment steps below:

Schedule an Appointment with Your Foot and Ankle Doctor

Once you've gotten off your feet, call your doctor and schedule an appointment to have your foot or ankle looked at. The sooner you can get in, the better. 

Apply Ice

When you're sitting or lying down, apply an ice pack to your foot and ankle. Ice will help numb your pain. It will also minimize inflammation and swelling. Be sure to wrap the ice pack in a towel first; never put it directly on your skin.

Use ice packs for about 20 minutes at a time, then take a break. You can ice your foot and ankle in 20-minute increments throughout the day.

Use a Compression Bandage

To prevent additional swelling and promote faster healing, wrap your foot and ankle in a soft compression bandage. Remember, the bandage should be snug, but you should also avoid wrapping it too tightly. If you do, you could end up cutting off circulation to your foot. 

Elevate Your Foot and Ankle

Try to keep your foot and ankle elevated so they're higher than your heart. Do this as much as possible to prevent swelling.

Over-the-Counter Pain Medications

If you're experiencing a lot of pain and the above treatment methods aren't sufficient, you can take an over-the-counter pain medication like ibuprofen, aspirin, or naproxen.

How to Prevent Foot and Ankle Stress Fractures

It's good to know how to treat a stress fracture of the foot and ankle, but it's also important to know how to prevent them from happening in the first place. After all, it's always easier to prevent an injury than it is to treat it.

Some simple strategies you can start implementing to prevent a stress fracture include:

  • Make slow, gradual changes, especially when starting a new exercise routine
  • Wear supportive shoes designed for your foot type
  • Cross-train and focus on increasing lower body strength to increase your resilience to injuries
  • Eat a healthy diet and make sure you're consuming adequate amounts of calcium and vitamin D

It's especially important to take these preventative measures into account if you've experienced a stress fracture in the past.

Do You Have a Stress Fracture? Should you see a New York Orthopedic Foot & Ankle Surgeon?

Now that you know what kinds of signs to look out for, it should be easier for you to identify when a stress fracture has taken place in your foot or ankle. If you believe you are suffering from one currently, be sure to get in to see a doctor as soon as possible.

If you live in or around the New York City or Stamford, Connecticut areas, contact our office today. 

Our Orthopedic Foot and Ankle surgeon is experienced in treating foot and ankle stress fractures, along with other orthopedic injuries.