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What are Stress Fractures?


Thursday, May 22nd, 2014

Stress fractures are some of the most common injuries that occur in athletes. These overuse injuries, which are small cracks in the bone, occur primarily in the lower leg and foot and are typically caused by repetitive use or a rapid increase in one’s amount of activity. Aaron Mares, MD, orthopaedic surgeon, answers some of the common questions about stress fractures.

What Causes Stress Fractures?

Athletes who participate in track and field, tennis, and basketball are at a greater risk for developing stress fractures because of the repetitive nature of those sports. The following could also cause stress fractures:

  • Running and jumping
  • Poor running technique
  • Poor footwear
  • Training changes

The most common complaint associated with these fractures is pain in the foot or leg with increased activity. Typically, this pain goes away when resting. Other symptoms may include tenderness and swelling.

How are stress fractures diagnosed?

To diagnose your doctor will perform an exam and will usually have an MRI taken. Once diagnosed with a stress fracture, it’s recommended that you rest from the activity that causes pain. Depending on the severity of the fracture, sometimes your doctor will recommend wearing a brace or boot to help with proper healing. As with other injuries, the best form of treatment is often prevention.

Are stress fractures preventable?

Stress fractures are overuse injuries, and if measures aren’t taken to prevent future ones from developing, they may return. To help avoid developing stress fractures:

  • Scale up new activities in increments. Proper training and conditioning is essential.
  • Eat a healthy diet full of calcium and vitamin D to help strengthen bones.
  • Wear proper fitting equipment. While they can be pricey, shoes that fit properly and have the right insoles for your feet can help reduce injury.
  • Do not overuse. If you begin to feel pain, don’t continue to play through it, but take a rest and slowly work your way back.

If you suspect you have a stress fracture or another injury, please consult your doctor. To schedule an appointment with a UPMC orthopaedic specialist, call 412-687-3900.

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Orthopaedic Surgery

An established leader in advanced orthopaedic care, the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery offers comprehensive services for the full spectrum of musculoskeletal conditions. Our more than 40 orthopaedic surgeons and staff use some of the latest imaging technologies for diagnoses, and perform some of the most advanced surgical techniques as part of a comprehensive treatment plan. Read More