What Does a Stress Fracture Feel Like?

Runners, dancers, and athletes alike can be prone to different types of injuries that come directly from their motions. One such injury is a stress fracture of the bones. This microscopic break happens when thin cracks form as the answer to repeated pressure on a bone. It is common to see stress fractures in the toes, ankle, foot, hip, and tibia. Many individuals wonder: what does a stress fracture feel like? The answer can be a bit complex. Unfortunately, the dull pain associated with these fractures is often ignored by individuals, which can lead to it becoming a much bigger issue.

What Does a Stress Fracture Feel Like?

When it comes to stress fracture, you are not so much looking for symptoms, instead, you're actually feeling them.

  • A stress fracture will first feel like minor pain and weakness localized to a specific area. Typically this pain is somewhere that you have not experienced another type of injury such as a bruise, at the same time. Although you will feel the pain below the skin, you may not see any visible signs of injury.
  • With time, the pain may progress and feel deep within the affected areas, such as leg or hip. If no measures taken, the pain may become very nagging and annoying.
  • The pain from a stress fracture will continue to escalate at a different speed depending on your levels of activity. In areas where stress fractures are common like the hip, leg, and foot, you may notice that the pain becomes unbearable as it progresses. This can lead to severe discomfort.

For example, if the stress fracture occurs in your foot, the pain may just feel like a light sprain. Without treatments and with you keeping your normal activities like walking or running, the pain would become severe and lead to claudication. As a result, you may have to use crutches to aid moving as the pain would become too unbearable.

What Not to Look For

The injury of a stress fracture is only relevant to the bones. Some may be under the misconception that if you have sustained this type of injury then you won't be able to easily move things like fingers and toes. While this might be true when a bone is completely broken, it is not the same with a stress fracture. Many individuals are able to endure the pain of a stress fracture easily and continue on with their activity, failing to realize that it is more serious until it actually hinders their ability to move.

Individuals should not look for swelling as a sign of injury, either. When a stress fracture occurs, there may be swelling but generally, there is not. When there is, it is minimal and may not be easily noticed. Lastly, because a stress fracture happens below the skin tissue and is not the result of a direct impact injury (being hit with an object, etc.), there is not likely to be any discoloration or bruising.

Degrees of Stress Fractures

As we consider "what does a stress fracture feel like", we have to also consider that these injuries come in different degrees and individuals have different pain thresholds. The degree of a stress fracture is directly related to the body part which is impacted.

For example, stress fractures on the heel are relatively minor and fairly common for anyone who is in an activity that involves regular heel to toe movements. At worst, a patient may have to use crutches or even a cushioned boot for a few days up to one week to alleviate pressure so the bones can heal.

Areas that heal poorly are considered high risk stress fractures. For example, the hip or pelvic areas are two places where bones endure a substantial amount of pressure and are therefore difficult to heal properly. In fact, the medical community believes that any type of fracture above the knee is considered more serious because these are some of the strongest bones in the body as they support nearly all movements.

Why Does It Happen?

After knowing "what does a stress fracture feel like" it is equally important to know what causes it so as to avoid future injuries. Bone health is critical for everyone and human bones sustain their strength through mineral absorption, which typically comes from a healthy diet. However, even the most health-conscious individual is likely to suffer from a stress fracture with repeated pressure put on a specific bone.

If a stress fracture comes a little too easily or is very severe upon the first impact, it is possible that there is an underlying medical condition that has resulted in lighter bone density making them subject to breakage. As for these medical conditions, there are numerous different ones, which is why it's important to seek medical attention anytime you feel you may have endured a stress fracture.

How to Deal With It

The importance of knowing "what does a stress fracture feel like" is to help you get proper treatments as soon as possible. Treating a stress fracture is relatively uncomplicated. It starts by being proactive about taking a few days off to allow your body to heal. If possible, elevate the extremity that is in pain to increase blood flow and allow the area to heal naturally.

  • Most stress fracture pain can be treated with over-the-counter drugs such as ibuprofen. Patients should avoid taking aspirin as it can thin the blood and slow down the healing process.
  • During the first 24 to 48 hours of reduced movement, you may want to alternate between ice packs and heat to soothe some of the pain in the area.
  • If a stress fracture is particularly intense, it may require additional assistance from an air cast or even crutches to alleviate pressure when walking.
  • Depending on the severity of your fracture, it may be necessary to maintain light duty for up to two weeks. In severe cases, avoid certain types of activity for up to eight weeks to allow the bone adequate time to heal and prevent further stress on the area.

Prevention Is Key

Stress fractures are likely to happen to individuals who have taken on a new routine that dramatically increases their physical activity. Physicians recommend taking a slow approach and gradually working your body up to the level of activity which you wish to achieve. This gives your bones and muscles time to address properly to prevent injury. Additionally, making sure that your body is supported adequately during your physical activity is important; this includes wearing good quality shoes that work with the arch of your feet and maintaining a healthy diet with the type of nutrients that support bone health.

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