If you bang a teacup or tap on it with a hard object often enough, tiny cracks will appear in the glaze. Eventually they will deepen, the china will get weaker, and the cup will break. Did you know something similar can happen to the bones in your feet and ankles? Understanding how foot bones and tissues function can help you prevent such injuries.
How Stress Fractures Happen
One cause for these tiny, hairline cracks to appear in the surface of your bones is a condition called osteoporosis. The term means porous or thin bones, and when you have it, any type of pressure can cause a break.
However, even normal bones can be damaged if there is enough force on them. An acute trauma (immediate, hard impact) can cause a complete break, but overuse can lead to damage just in the surface of the bone—a stress fracture.
The force of your body weight on your feet and ankles increases 3 or 4 times when running or jumping. When you do these activities for long periods of time without building muscle strength and conditioning first, your bones are more vulnerable.
As well as working to move your feet, your muscles also absorb some of the force of the impact of your feet against the ground. If they are asked to do too much, they become tired and can’t cushion your bones as well. The trauma from each impact with the ground is then transferred directly to the bone itself, like tapping on a teacup, and small cracks can form in the surface.
What Stress Fractures Feel Like
You may not feel anything at all in the early stages. Over time, though, the surface crack will grow wider and deeper, and then you may feel soreness after activity. The foot will be tender at the spot of the break, but feel better after you have rested a bit.
The next time you run, you’ll feel it again—maybe a bit worse this time. The foot may also be a little puffy or swollen in the painful area. Eventually, you won’t be able to run at all without pain. Even worse, as the damage continues to build, the break may extend deeper into the bone and you’ll develop a full-blown fracture that can take months to heal.
You don’t want it to develop to that point. As soon as you notice pain that limits your activity, schedule an appointment at Sierra Foot & Ankle to find out what’s wrong. These small fractures can often heal effectively with conservative treatments if you catch them early and follow guidelines about weight-bearing. Only in areas where blood supply is poor would such a break require surgery.
Stay off Your Stress Fracture
Rest is the most important part of healing one of these surface cracks. Bone is constantly renewing itself, but only if you have adequate down time between times of stress. That’s why overdoing it can get you into trouble. Your bone needs time to recover from the damage that activity can inflict.
You may need to wear a protective boot or walking brace for a while, or even use crutches if the break is bad enough. While it is healing, using ice therapy may help with any pain and swelling. Once we give you the go-ahead on resuming activity, be smart. Don’t jump right in where you left off, or you’ll be back in the boot or brace in no time. Start slowly, and increase your activity level gradually, so your tissues can be built up to bear the force correctly this time.
Foot Care for Fractures in the Northern Nevada Region
Dr. Victoria Melhuish has been practicing podiatry since 1995 and has seen a lot of stress fractures over the years. Trust her to know what to do for yours. Call Sierra Foot & Ankle in Carson City and Gardnerville at (775) 783-8037 (if you live in the surrounding area call us toll free at 888-608-8406) or set up your appointment right on our website using our contact page. We want you to heal quickly, but also care about your whole health. We look forward to helping you create a plan to eat well and exercise to strengthen your bones and prevent another injury.