A stress fracture is a small crack in the bone caused by overuse and repetitive forces. Stress fractures account for 20% of all injuries in sports medicine. Women are at an increased risk for stress fractures due to hormonal factors that influence bone density as well as hours per week spent participating in sports. Research has found that women who participate in sports for eight or more hours a week are twice as likely to develop a stress fracture than those who do four hours a week.
Stress Fracture Symptoms
Generally, a stress fracture will present as a sudden onset of pain at the end of a workout that is often associated with a recent increase in intensity or duration. Pain is usually high, and there is often tenderness when the bone is directly touched. Physical discomfort may also occur while walking or at rest.
Treating Stress Fractures
If you suspect you might have a stress fracture, the best course of action is to see a physician for imaging. Based on the imaging of the fracture itself, a physician will determine the appropriate time to rest to allow your injury to heal. For example, a typical tibia stress fracture would be treated over 12 weeks in a walking boot. Once the stress fracture is healed, you can begin to return to sport; working with a physical therapist is a great way to ensure a safe return to your pre-injury activity level as well as improve any weaknesses that may have contributed to the pain.
Preventing Stress Fractures
Research has shown that there are modifications athletes can make to decrease their risk of stress fractures. One such adaptation is giving the body an appropriate amount of rest to heal in addition to refraining from excessive exercise, which is described as anything greater than 25 hours a week of running on hard surfaces. Diet and low weight play a role, too, so make sure that you are taking in enough calcium to maintain strong bones.
Are you ready to return to normalcy after a stress fracture? Contact your local SET Physical Therapy today!