Healing takes several weeks
Medically reviewed by Amy Kwan, PT
A stress fracture in the foot can be painful, especially when the foot bears weight. Stress fractures happen when muscles become fatigued and are unable to absorb shock, such as when your foot hits the pavement while running. Instead, this shock is transferred to the bone, eventually causing tiny cracks called stress fractures.
In this article, learn about foot stress fracture treatment and recovery.
Foot Stress Fracture Causes
People with healthy bones may get a stress fracture from repetitive or high-impact activities, increasing physical activity too quickly, or not resting enough between workouts.
Sports with a high risk of stress fractures include:
Track and field
It's also possible to get a stress fracture from the impact of normal daily activities if you have preexisting bone conditions (such as osteoporosis) that make your bones more fragile and susceptible to fracture.
Symptoms: Do I Have a Stress Fracture in My Foot?
The most common symptom of a stress fracture in the foot is pain in the foot or ankle, which comes on slowly and gets worse during weight-bearing activities like walking, running, or jumping.
Foot stress fracture symptoms include:
Pain that worsens during weight-bearing activities
Pain that gets better during rest
Swelling along the top of the foot and/or ankle
Tenderness at a specific spot
You can get stress fractures in any bone, but more than half of stress fractures occur in the lower leg, including the feet.
Stress Fracture Official Diagnosis
If you have stress fracture symptoms, see a healthcare provider to discuss your health history and get imaging. The gold standard for stress fracture diagnosis is magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). However, some healthcare providers may also use radiographs, ultrasound, computed tomography (CT), and bone scans.
How Long Does a Foot Stress Fracture Take to Heal?
According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, it takes most stress fractures about six to eight weeks to heal.
However, healing time differs based on individual factors like:
Location of your stress fracture
Adherence to activity modifications
A healthcare provider should be able to offer you a personalized healing timeline based on your imaging and other variables.
Starting Stress Fracture Treatment for Foot Symptoms
If you've been diagnosed with a stress fracture in your foot, you will be given treatment based on your fracture's risk level and location.
Low-Risk Foot Stress Fractures
Sometimes, healthcare providers start with conservative treatment, allowing stress fractures to heal independently without surgery. Conservative treatment may include:
Rest, ice, compression, elevation (RICE) method during acute stages
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) medications., such as Advil or Motrin (ibuprofen) and Aleve (naproxen sodium)
Short-term non-weight-bearing with crutches or a knee scooter until the initial pain subsides
Activity modification for six to eight weeks to reduce stress on the foot
Protective footwear, such as stiff-soled shoes, wooden-soled sandals, brace, or boots
Physical therapy for a physical rehabilitation plan, reconditioning and return to regular activity, and healing modalities
Occupational therapy for training in assistive devices and ways to modify your environment, mobility, and activities of daily living within your new restrictions
High-Risk Foot Stress Fractures
High-risk foot stress fractures are treated with more proactive measures, sometimes including surgery. High-risk stress fractures include those that don't respond to conservative treatment or progress to complete fracture.
Specific locations in the foot and ankle that have high load and low blood flow are also considered high risk:
Medial malleolus: The bony bump on the inner side of the ankle.
Talus: An ankle bone located at the top and back of your foot. This is where the two lower leg bones (tibia and fibula) connect to the foot.
Tarsal navicular: A small bone in the midfoot that has an important role in maintaining the arch of the foot.
Proximal fifth metatarsal: One of the five long, thin bones that connect from the base of the ankle toward the base of the toes. The fifth metatarsal, in particular, is prone to injury due to its location on the outer edge of the foot.
Great toe sesamoids: Two small, circular bones located on the underside of the big toe joint.
High-risk stress fracture treatment is more likely to progress to surgery because these breaks may not heal independently. Treatment typically includes:
Non-weight-bearing immobilization with a boot or knee scooter
An extended period away from sports
Methodical and cautious reintroduction to athletic activity
Mobility Support With a Stress Fracture in Foot
Most of the time, you can walk on a stress fracture in your foot; you will just be advised to limit high-stress weight-bearing activity, like running, and take analgesics.
Depending on the severity, fracture location, and other factors, your healthcare provider may advise you to wear a boot.
Sometimes, a healthcare provider will recommend a pneumatic boot with a chamber of compressed air, offering cushioning to your foot and reducing the impact of walking. You can walk around with the boot but shouldn't try running or jumping.
When to Resume Normal Physical Activity
Resume regular physical activity when your healthcare provider advises you to. For most people, this is approximately six to eight weeks from diagnosis. However, it could be as soon as four weeks or as long as 12 weeks out.
You can do some things to prevent future stress fractures when you resume regular physical activity. These include:
Increase physical activity/workouts gradually and progressively.
Rest between physical activity and workouts.
Include cross-training in your workout plans.
Use shock-absorbing inserts in your shoes.
Stop the activity if you experience pain or swelling, and wait for it to go away before resuming.
Consult with a healthcare provider before taking any vitamins or supplements and discuss other ways to prevent future stress fractures.
Stress fractures in the foot can be painful, tender, swollen, sore, and sometimes bruised. The pain from a foot stress fracture typically gets worse during weight-bearing activity. Conservative treatment for foot stress fractures typically lasts six to eight weeks and includes pain relief and activity modification. High-risk foot stress fractures may require a pneumatic boot or even surgery in some cases, although this is less common.
Read the original article on Verywell Health.