What Is a Stress Fracture?

A stress fracture is severe bruising or a small crack in a bone that occurs largely due to overuse or repetitive activity on your feet or ankles. This injury typically happens to athletes who run frequently, but you don’t have to be an athlete to experience a stress fracture. 



Where Are Stress Fractures Located?

Stress fractures of the foot most commonly occur in metatarsals, which are the long, thin bones that connect your toes to your mid and hind-foot. This area often bears the brunt of the impact your feet receive when you walk or run. However, a stress fracture can occur in any bone of the foot or ankle. 


Why Do Stress Fractures Happen and When Do They Occur?

Even if you’re not a particularly active person, a sudden increase in the amount of time you spend on your feet may contribute to a stress fracture. For example, if you have a fairly sedentary lifestyle but suddenly decide to start taking walks a few times each week, you might experience a stress fracture. Going on a vacation that involves walking around much more than normal may also induce a stress fracture.


Oftentimes, individuals who suddenly change their fitness routine experience stress fractures from running longer distances, trying a new exercise, or simply walking or running on uneven ground instead of level ground (outdoors vs. indoors). Changing your footwear may also reduce your feet’s ability to absorb the impact of your regular physical activity and result in a stress fracture.


Osteoporosis and other conditions that cause decreased bone density and strength can put people at an increased risk for stress fractures. Additionally, pushing through discomfort and not giving your body adequate time to recover when restarting an exercise regime makes you more vulnerable to stress fractures. Having poor conditioning, decreased bone density, improper footwear, or poor technique all may contribute to stress fractures. 


How Do You Know if You Have a Stress Fracture?

Pain with swelling in your foot or ankle is the most common, glaring symptom of a stress fracture. Over time, the pain develops and gradually worsens during any weight-bearing activity you engage in. Generally, pain is least in the morning and worsens by the end of the day.


OrthoInfo shares that other symptoms of stress fractures include:

  • Pain that diminishes during rest
  • Pain that occurs and intensifies during normal, daily activities
  • Swelling on the top of the foot or on the outside of the ankle
  • Tenderness to touch at the site of the fracture
  • Possible bruising

However, pain and swelling can also be a sign of other pathologies, and an evaluation by a Foot and Ankle Specialist is recommended to determine the source.

If you experience any of the above symptoms in your feet or ankles, contact us. It’s important to rest and avoid any weight-bearing activities until you can see a doctor, and you should also ice any injuries, wrap your foot or ankle lightly to prevent swelling, and keep your foot elevated above your heart as often as possible. 

Do not ignore any pain that may indicate a stress fracture, as this may lead to a bone actually breaking, which takes much longer to recover from. Surgical or nonsurgical treatment may be necessary to heal your stress fracture depending on its severity.

What Can You Do to Prevent Stress Fractures?

You can prevent stress fractures by eating a diet rich in calcium and Vitamin D to increase bone strength, using the proper footwear for physical activity, and gradually increasing your exercise regime’s intensity, duration, or conditioning.



Participating in cross-training, or alternating between different types of exercise, can help you reduce the likelihood of overstressing the same bones in your feet and ankles. Additionally, strength training to increase your muscle mass and bone density will put you in a good position to avoid losing bone density as you age. 


Stress fractures are not something to make light of, and it’s wise to educate yourself on the risks associated with them so that you can take preventative measures. If you suspect you may be dealing with a stress fracture, give Martin Foot and Ankle a call at (717) 757-3537. Our team of expert podiatrists and physical therapists is equipped to help you assess your foot and ankle health.

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