Causes of Foot and Ankle Fractures, Treatment and Prevention
Highly active people (athletes in particular), or those with a very sedentary lifestyle, are very prone to stress fractures. When muscles weaken—either from too much or too little use—the muscles cease providing cushion for the foot and ankle as they impact the ground. As there is very little to protect the bones in your feet, each step you take causes the bones to absorb the full impact, and this causes cracks to form, or stress fractures, to form in the pressurized bones.
Stress fractures are small breaks in the bone that are caused by repetitive stress. They typically occur due to overuse, forcing the bones of the foot or ankle to continually absorb the full impact of each step someone takes. Stress fractures can also be caused by abnormal foot structure, osteoporosis, bone deformities, or wearing improper footwear during exercise.
Stress fractures are common for individuals whose daily activities cause high levels of impact on their feet and ankles. Individuals who run, play tennis or basketball, or practice gymnastics tend to experience these fractures more frequently. Anyone is susceptible to this problem, though. Individuals who are normally sedentary and suddenly begin an intense, high impact workout may sustain stress fractures. This is because their muscles are not yet strong enough to handle and cushion the intensity of their activity. Osteoporosis may also cause someone to get stress fractures, because the disease weakens an afflicted person's bones and makes it easier for them to break down.
Pain from stress fractures typically occurs in the general area of the fracture. Pain can also manifest as “pinpoint pain” or pain that is felt when the site of the injury is touched, and can be accompanied by swelling. It may occur during or after activity, and it may disappear while resting and return when standing or moving. Engaging in any kind of activity, high impact or otherwise, will aggravate the pain. If the intensity of the activity increases before the stress fracture has properly healed, it can cause a full fracture.
Treatment can vary depending on the individual and the degree of injury. The primary way to treat a stress fracture is to rest the hurt foot. Some fractures will heal quickly with only a little bit of rest, while others may require a long rest period and the use of crutches, immobilization, or physical therapy. Under certain circumstances, surgery may be required to install support pins around the fracture to assist in healing.
If you are undergoing a new exercise regimen in running or some other kind of high impact activity, set incremental goals on a weekly basis so you can build up muscle strength. Make sure to wear supportive shoes to better protect you feet.
If you begin to experience any symptoms of stress fractures, you should stop exercising and rest. If the symptoms persist, consult with your podiatrist. Remembering these tips can help you prevent stress fractures to your foot and ankle, and allow you to continue living normally.