A stress fracture is a tiny crack in the bone from chronic overuse. Most stress fractures occur in the lower leg and foot. They can also occur in the hip and other areas.
Stress Fractures of the Tibia and Fibula
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A blow to the bone does not cause a stress fracture. Rather, it is typically caused by repeated stress or overuse. Some causes are:
Stress fractures can worsen by continued physical stress. Smoking can also make stress fractures worse because it interferes with bone healing.
Stress fractures are more common in women. Other factors that may increase your chance of a stress fracture include:
A stress fracture may cause:
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. The injured area will be examined for localized pain and swelling.
Imaging tests to evaluate your bones include:
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can relieve pain, but controversy exists about their use for stress fractures. It is possible that NSAIDs adversely affect stress fracture healing.
Rest is the most important thing you can do for a stress fracture. This includes avoiding the activity that caused the fracture and any other activities that cause pain. Rest time required is at least 6-8 weeks.
Shock absorbing shoe inserts and pneumatic braces may provide comfort and quicken recovery.
You may need crutches or a walking cane to keep pressure off the leg.
Talk with your doctor about when you can restart activity and how to progress with the amount and type of activity.
To help reduce your chance of a stress fracture:
American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine
Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
Canadian Orthopaedic Association
Canadian Orthopaedic Foundation
Femoral stress fracture. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115016/Femoral-stress-fracture. Updated February 5, 2016. Accessed September 14, 2016.
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Stress fractures. Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website. Available at: http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00112. Updated October 2007. Accessed September 16, 2015.
Stress fractures of the foot and ankle. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T116052/Stress-fractures-of-the-foot-and-ankle. Updated March 25, 2016. Accessed September 14, 2016.
Tibial plateau fracture. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T116325/Tibial-plateau-fracture. Updated December 22, 2015. Accessed September 14, 2016.
Tenforde AS, Sayres LC, Sainani KL, Fredericson M. Evaluating the relationship of calcium and vitamin D in the prevention of stress fracture injuries in the young athlete: A review of the literature. PM R. 2010;2:945-949.
Rome K, Handoll HHG, Ashford RL. Interventions for preventing and treating stress fractures and stress reactions of bone of the lower limbs in young adults. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2005;2:CD000450.
Wells CL. Women, Sport & Performance: A Physiological Perspective. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics; 1991.
Wheeler P, Batt ME. Do nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs adversely affect stress fracture healing? A short review. Br J Sports Med. 2005;39:65-69.
Last reviewed September 2016 by Michael Woods, MD, FAAP
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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