Stress fractures are little cracks or breaks in a bone. They typically occur in the bones of the legs (tibia and fibula) or the bones of the feet, especially the long bones of the feet called metatarsals.
Stress fractures usually manifest themselves as pain in a specific part of the feet or legs that occurs and increases with activity and decreases or resolves with rest. It is typically associated with a small amount of swelling that may or may not be readily visible.
Your podiatrist will obtain the history of the symptoms and perform an exam of the feet and/or legs. X-rays will be performed but it is important to understand that because of the small nature of the fracture, they often do not show up on x-rays or if they do, they show up later. Stress fractures can be seen on a bone scan or an MRI so one of these studies may be performed to confirm the diagnosis.
The most important thing about treating stress fractures is to allow the bone to heal without much stress. This usually means some sort of rest from completely removing weight from the foot and leg with use of crutches to simply modifying the activities that cause significant stress on the foot and leg or something in between. The use of a special walking shoe or boot is sometimes employed depending on the location and severity of the stress fracture.
Preventing stress fractures
Stress fractures are fairly common but some relatively simple things can be done to prevent them. When starting a new activity, ease into it. Also try to alternate your activities.
Be sure that you are wearing the correct shoes for the activity and make sure they are not worn out. If you have a history of stress fractures or other foot problems, your podiatrist may create custom made orthotics.
If you are experiencing pain or swelling with a certain activity, stop that activity and rest until it gets better. If it does not get better or the symptoms return, you should see your podiatrist.