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A stress fracture is one type of incomplete fractures in bones. It could be described as a very small sliver or crack in the bone; this is why it is sometimes dubbed "hairline fracture".

Stress fractures typically occur in weight-bearing bones, such as the tibia/fibula (bones of the lower leg) and metatarsals (bones of the foot).

A stress fracture is a common sports injury.


Stress fractures usually have a narrow list of symptoms. It could present as a generalized area of pain, tenderness, and pain with weight-bearing. Usually when running, a stress fracture has severe pain in the beginning of the run, moderate pain in the middle of the run, and severe pain at the end and after the run.


As with most diseases, a stress fracture is best diagnosed after interview and examination by an astute physician. Investigations are not necessary to diagnose a stress fracture.

X-rays usually do not show any evidence of stress fractures, so a CT scan, MRI, or 3-phase bone scan may be more effective in unclear cases. Histological examination of the bone is the most accurate test, but it obviously can only be performed on amputated limbs or during autopsy of patients who have died.


If a stress fracture occurs in a weightbearing bone, healing will be delayed or prevented by continuing to put weight on that limb.

Rest is the only way to completely heal a stress fracture. The average time of complete rest from the activity that caused the stress fracture is one week. A fracture requires 4 to 8 weeks of recuperation, however, which may include no more than light use of the injured body part, as long as activity does not cause pain. After the recuperative period, another 2 weeks of mild activity without any pain may be recommended before the bone may be safely considered healed and activity may gradually increase.

During this time, it is advised that training errors be identified (for instance, too much, too soon) and avoided in the future. One rule of thumb is to not increase the volume of training by more than 10% from one week to the next.

Rehabilitation usually consists of muscle strength training to help dissipate the excessive forces transmitted to the bones.

In some cases, an electronic stimulator or bone stimulator may be used. These devices send electrical impulses into the bone to promote healing; recent studies have shown that the bone heals naturally via electromagnetic stimulation. Electromagnetically stimulating the bone causes the bone to lay out more bone cells that strengthen the bone.

Bracing or casting the limb with a hard plastic boot or air cast may also prove beneficial by taking some stress off the stress fracture. An air cast has pre-inflated cells that put light pressure on the bone, which promotes healing by increasing blood flow to the area and takes away a lot of the pain because of the pressure it applies to the bone. If the stress fracture is severe enough, crutches also help to take all stress off the bone.

With severe stress fractures, surgery may be needed for proper healing. The procedure may involve pinning the fracture site, and rehabilitation takes an average of six months.


Bones are constantly attempting to remodel and repair themselves, especially during a sport where extraordinary stress is applied to the bone. Over time, if enough stress is placed on the bone that it exhausts the capacity of the bone to remodel, a weakened site -- a stress fracture -- on the bone may appear. The fracture does not appear suddenly. It occurs from repeated traumas, none of which is sufficient to cause a sudden break, but which, when added together, overwhelm the osteoblasts that remodel the bone.

Stress fractures commonly occur in sedentary people who suddenly undertake a burst of exercise (whose bones are not used to the task). They may also occur in Olympic-class athletes who do extraordinary quantities of high-impact exercise, or in soldiers who march long distances.

Muscle fatigue can also play a role in the occurrence of stress fractures. For every mile a runner runs, more than 110 tons of force must be absorbed by the legs. Bones are not made to stand that much energy on their own and the muscles act as shock absorbers for the excess force. But, as muscles become tired and stop absorbing most of the shock, the bones experience greater amounts of stress. Finally, when muscles (usually in the lower leg) become so fatigued that they stop absorbing any shock, all forces are transferred to the bones.


One method of avoiding stress fractures is by adding more stress to the bones. Although counter-intuitive given that stress fractures are caused by too much stress on the bones, when moderate stress is applied to the bone in a controlled manner, the bone becomes stronger and less susceptible to a stress fracture. An easy way to do this is to follow one widely known rule for runners, which states that mileage should be increased by no more than 10% per week. This allows the bones to adapt to the added stress so they are able to withstand greater amounts of stress in the future.

Strengthening exercises also help build more muscle strength in the legs. Strengthening these muscles will stop them from getting fatigued so quickly, which allows them to absorb the pounding of running for longer periods of time. Key muscles that need to be strengthened with lower leg stress fractures are the calves and the shin muscles.

Depending on a variety of factors including weight, running surface and shoe durability, runners should replace their shoes every 300-700 miles to allow adequate mid-sole cushioning. A change in the choice of running surfaces can also help prevent stress fractures.

When performing any exercise that applies more stress to the bones, it may be wise to increase calcium and vitamin D intake, depending on the individual. Also, it is important to monitor foods eaten because nutrition plays a vital role in bone development. Certain individuals are at risk of osteoporosis, and depending on the country in which medical care is being supplied, there may be a screening program in place.

Source: wikipedia GFDL


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