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Stress Fracture

Introduction

A stress fracture is an overuse injury.  It occurs when muscles become fatigued and are unable to absorb added shock.  Eventually, the fatigued muscle transfers the overload of stress to the bone causing a tiny crack called a stress fracture.

Anatomy

Most stress fractures occur in the weight-bearing bones of the leg and foot.  More than 50 percent of all stress fractures occur in the lower leg.

Causes

Stress fractures are often caused by increasing the amount or intensity of an activity too quickly.  They can also be caused by the impact of an unfamiliar surface, like when a tennis player plays on different types of courts, or a runner wears worn out or inflexible shoes.  Without significant rest between workouts, an athlete is at risk for developing a stress fracture.

Symptoms

Pain with activity is the most common complaint of a stress fracture.

Diagnosis

X-rays are often used to diagnose stress fractures, however, sometimes the stress fracture cannot be seen on a regular x-ray or it will not show up immediately when the pain starts.  Occasionally a CT scan or MRI will be necessary to make the determination of a stress fracture.

Treatment

Your physical therapist will guide you with muscle strengthening exercises that can help you return to your previous level of activity.  He or she will reintroduce weight bearing exercises, as well as helping you maintain flexibility and strength.  Your physical therapist can also guide you in selecting a crutch, brace, or shoe insert that may be necessary to your treatment.

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