Stress fracture foot problems develop when there is a small break in one of the foot bones.
They most commonly occur due to repetitive overloading of the foot in sports.
In many cases the actual fracture may be extremely small, the width of a single hair, but they can also be extremely painful.
When treated correctly stress fractures usually heal quickly, but if they are left untreated they can become a serious problem, leading to chronic pain and stiffness.
Foot stress fractures develop when the foot is repeatedly over-loaded placing too much force through the foot bones. It is typically the repetitive action of the foot striking the floor that leads to foot stress fractures with activities such as football, tennis, gymnastics and basketball. Runners are also commonly affected.
Stress fractures foot problems usually affect people who have suddenly increased their activity levels, whether it be that they’ve taken up a new sport or have suddenly increased their training levels, be it the intensity, duration or frequency. This causes two problems:
Firstly, the muscles in the foot do not have the strength and endurance needed to cope with the increased activity levels and are unable to provide the support needed to the foot bones. This leads to excessive force going through the bones which can cause a crack in the bone.
Secondly, the bones in our body are continually regenerating. Old bone is reabsorbed and new bone is formed – this is quite normal. When too much force goes through the bones, the new bone growth is unable to keep up with bone reabsorption leading to small cracks in the bone.
As we have already seen, stress fracture foot problems typically affect athletes, particularly if the have recently increased training levels or taken up a new sport. There are also other factors that increase the risk of stress fractures foot problems:
Stress fractures of the foot typically affect the metatarsals, calcaneus (heel), navicular and fibula (outer shin). To find out more, visit the foot bones anatomy section.
The most common type is a metatarsal stress fracture, also known as a March Fracture because they commonly occur in soldiers and hikers.
The most common symptoms of a stress fracture of the foot are:
Stress fracture foot problems can be diagnosed by your doctor. By talking about you activity levels, work and any medications you are on, as well as carrying out a physical examination, your doctor will be able to identify a stress fracture of the foot.
Your doctor may send you for an MRI scan or bone scan to confirm the diagnosis. X-rays are rarely done as they tend not to be sensitive enough to detect a foot stress fracture until it has begun to heal and the new bone growth shows up on the x-ray.
The goal of treatment for stress fracture foot problems is to reduce the pain and inflammation and allow the bone to fully heal so you can return to activity. Treatment for foot stress fractures usually consists of:
It is important not to return to your usual activities too quickly following stress fracture foot problems otherwise the fracture may not heal properly and you’ll be back to square one. Avoid the activity that caused the injury for approximately 6-8 weeks or longer if necessary until you are completely pain-free.
Pace yourself when you return to activity. Start slowly and gradually increase the intensity, duration and frequency. Ideally, start with non-weight bearing activities such as swimming and cycling before starting high-impact activities. If the pain returns, stop immediately.
As always, prevention is better than cure. Stress fracture foot problems frequently recur with approximately sixty percent of stress fractures sufferers having had a previous fracture.
Here are some top tips on how to reduce the risk of suffering from a stress fracture in your foot:
Stress fracture foot problems are a common cause of foot pain in athletes.
Stress fractures usually develop gradually and are often linked to sudden increases in the intensity, frequency and duration of exercise.
When the foot bones are repeatedly overloaded, small cracks can form as the bone isn't strong enough to cope.
Foot stress fractures are often linked to abnormal foot biomechanics, previous foot injuries, unsupportive footwear, gender and age.
Stress fracture foot problems typically affect the metatarsal, navicular or calcaneus bones.
Treatment for foot stress fractures usually involves a combination of rest, ice, elevation, braces or walking boots, crutches and medication.
If this is not sounding quite like your problem, visit the foot pain diagnosis section for help working out what is wrong or you may be interested in the following articles:
Page Last Updated: 05/12/23
Next Review Due: 05/12/25