Stress fractures are small cracks that occur along the surface of a bone. They are also called fissures or hairline cracks. Unlike a traditional fracture, the bone is not completely broken with a stress fracture. Some common signs of a stress fracture are:

  • Pain that ranges from deep and dull to pain that is sharp and specific to the injured area
  • Tenderness to the touch
  • Pain that worsens during weight-bearing activity but improves with rest
  • Swelling at the top of the foot or outer part of the ankle
  • Red, blue, or purple bruising

Causes of Stress Fractures

The most common cause of a stress fracture is overuse from sports. Stress fractures can also be caused by repetitive force or from a health condition such as osteoporosis. Athletes are at a higher risk for stress fractures, which do not typically happen suddenly but gradually develop over time. Signs you have a stress fracture

Some causes of stress fractures in the feet and ankles include:

  • Suddenly increasing the intensity of a physical activity such as training for a marathon or beginning a new workout or running program
  • Making a change to a running or walking surface such as going from an indoor track to a harder outdoor surface such as a road or sidewalk
  • Using an improper technique when walking or running
  • Wearing the wrong type of shoes for the activity you are doing—shoes that are not supportive or are flimsy can put you at risk for injury
  • Walking too much or walking on an uneven surface
  • Having a previous stress fracture

Diagnosing and Treating Stress Fractures

To diagnose a stress fracture, a podiatrist can do a physical exam then order imaging tests such as an X-ray, a bone scan, an MRI, or a CT scan to confirm the diagnosis. Many stress fractures can heal on their own by modifying your activities and resting to allow for healing. In addition, the following treatment options may be recommended:

  • Ice. Ice or cold compresses can be applied to the injured area to decrease pain and swelling.
  • Elevation. Keep the foot elevated above the heart to reduce swelling.
  • Compression. An elastic bandage or compression wrap can be used to help reduce swelling.
  • Medication. Over-the-counter medication such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen can be taken to decrease pain and swelling.
  • Cast. To keep the foot in position while the bone heals, a cast or brace may be used to aid in healing.
  • Footwear. Wearing protective footwear such as a wooden-soled sandal or a shoe with a stiff sole can help reduce pressure and stress on the foot while the fracture is healing.
  • Crutches. Using crutches can be used to assist with walking and to keep weight off the injured foot.

The length of time for a stress fracture to heal depends on its severity and location. Most stress fractures heal within four to six weeks. If the stress fracture does not heal using conservative treatment, surgery may be required to repair the fractured bone.

How to Prevent Stress Fractures

While not every stress fracture can be prevented, the following tips can help reduce your risk for one:

  • Maintain a healthy lifestyle by eating a balanced diet with foods high in calcium and vitamin D. You should also refrain from smoking and using products with nicotine.
  • Wear appropriate footwear that is supportive, padded, and designed for the specific activity you are doing. Avoid shoes with high heels.
  • Alternate your activities by cross training.
  • Take your time to ease into a new sport or activity and gradually build up your intensity, speed, and distance over time.

Are You Experiencing Foot & Ankle Pain in Alexandria, VA?

If you are experiencing foot and ankle pain,you should reach out to an experienced podiatrist. Foot pain is never something you just have to put up with. If your feet are aching, out of alignment, or just aren't holding up to the wear and tear of modern living, Capital Podiatry Associates can help. Our office provides a wide variety of advanced, effective treatment options for all kinds of painful conditions. Ready to schedule an appointment? We offer telemedicine and valet medicineContact us online or call our Alexandria office at 703-560-3773.


Leland T. Gilmore, DPM
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Dr. Leland Gilmore is a compassionate and experienced foot and ankle specialist.