How to manage foot/ankle stress fractures

How to manage foot/ankle stress fractures

What is a stress fracture?

Stress fractures in the foot and ankle are common injuries, often occurring in athletes, individuals with physically demanding jobs, and those with certain medical conditions. However, they can be easily overlooked or dismissed as mere discomfort. Stress fractures are most common in the bones of the lower leg and foot," says Carlos Romero, DPM, FACFAS, Podiatry at ARC South 1st Specialty and Pediatrics in Austin. "These injuries can affect mobility, but with proper care, can often be completely healed within three weeks to three months, depending on the severity, allowing you to return to full activities."

The most common symptoms of a stress fracture

Stress fractures typically manifest gradually, starting as mild discomfort that worsens with continued activity. However, the symptoms may vary depending on the location and severity of the fracture. Common signs include:

  • Persistent pain during or after exercise
  • Swelling or tenderness in the affected area
  • Pain that diminishes with rest but returns upon resuming activity
  • Bruising or redness over the site of the fracture
  • Difficulty bearing weight on the affected foot or ankle
  • Tenderness to even a light touch on or near your affected bone

"Understanding these symptoms is crucial, as early detection can prevent further damage and facilitate faster recovery," says Sara Yancovitz, DPM, AACFAS, Podiatry at ARC Far West Medical Tower in Austin.

Factors that increase the risk of stress fractures

Certain factors increase the risk of developing stress fractures. These include:

  • High-impact activities: Athletes involved in activities such as running, basketball, or gymnastics are prone to stress fractures due to repetitive stress on the bones.
  • Heavy labor jobs: Jobs that involve prolonged standing, walking on hard surfaces, or carrying heavy loads can increase the risk of stress fractures in the feet and ankles.
  • Osteoporosis: Individuals with osteoporosis have weakened bones, making them more susceptible to stress fractures, even with minimal trauma.
  • Poor footwear or training techniques: Inadequate footwear or improper training techniques can place undue stress on the bones, contributing to the development of stress fractures.

"Recognizing these predisposing factors can help individuals take proactive measures to prevent stress fractures and seek timely treatment if symptoms arise," says Dr. Romero.

Diagnosing stress fractures

Prompt diagnosis of stress fractures is essential for effective treatment and preventing complications. Healthcare professionals may employ various diagnostic tools, including:

  • X-ray: While not always immediately detectable, x-rays can reveal stress fractures as they start to heal, showing signs of bone remodeling.
  • MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging): MRI provides detailed images of soft tissues and bones, making it highly effective in identifying stress fractures, even in their early stages.
  • CT (Computed Tomography) scan: CT scans offer cross-sectional views of the bones, aiding in the precise localization and assessment of stress fractures.

Treatment for a foot or ankle stress fracture

Treatment options play a crucial role in the management of stress fractures in the foot and ankle, offering patients accessible and effective solutions to alleviate pain and expedite recovery.

  • Icing: Applying ice packs to the affected area can help alleviate pain and reduce inflammation, promoting healing.
  • Immobilizing: Utilizing supportive footwear or braces can immobilize the foot or ankle, preventing further stress on the fracture site.
  • Resting: Allowing ample rest for the affected limb is crucial for healing, as it reduces weight-bearing stress and facilitates recovery.
  • Physical therapy: Engaging in targeted exercises prescribed by a physical therapist can strengthen the muscles surrounding the fracture, promoting stability and preventing future injuries.
  • Pain medication: Over-the-counter pain medications or prescribed analgesics can help manage discomfort during the healing process.
  • Compression: Using a compression bandage or brace can help reduce swelling and provide support to the injured foot or ankle.
  • Elevation: Keeping the injured foot or ankle elevated above the level of the heart can help reduce swelling and promote healing.

"It's important to follow the recommendations of your podiatrist for the appropriate treatment of a foot or ankle stress fracture, as the specific approach may vary depending on the severity and location of the injury," says Dr. Yancovitz. "Surgery may be required in the very rare instance that the fracture does not heal with non-operative management."

Remember, early intervention is key to swift recovery and a return to an active lifestyle.

Make an appointment today

ARC Podiatrists specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of foot and ankle issues in patients of all ages. They address lower leg health, offering medical, orthotic, and surgical solutions for various ailments such as bunions and stress fractures, as well as pediatric issues such as flat foot and plantar warts.

Dr. Romero sees patients of all ages, and Dr. Yancovitz sees patients ages 4 and up. Make an appointment through ARC MyChart or ARC Help Me Book today. Don't let foot or ankle pain hold you back from enjoying life to the fullest—schedule a consultation today and take the first step towards healthier, happier feet.

Tags: Stress fractures