A foot stress fracture is a small crack that appears on a bone due to overuse. When the muscles of the foot become tired, they do not provide necessary support to the bones, thus allowing for damage. This kind of injury is most common among people who frequently play sports or engage in other repetitive, high-impact activity. Individuals with diseases that weaken the bones, such as osteoporosis, are also at a higher risk for getting a stress fracture.
Foot stress fracture injuries are primarily due to overuse. When the foot strikes the ground over and over, it not only tires the muscles, but it causes stress in the foot due to constant impact. It can happen on any surface, but is particularly common with sports that are played on hard surfaces. Some of the sports with the highest risk of foot stress fracture injuries are basketball, tennis, gymnastics, running, and volleyball. Dancers are also at a higher risk for the injury.
There are three primary factors in the development of a foot stress fracture: frequency, duration, and intensity. The more frequently a physical activity is pursued, the more opportunities there are for injury. Engaging in an activity for an extended period can lead to overuse of the muscles, which weakens the body’s defenses against injury to the foot bones. High intensity impact can overstress the foot so that it cannot defend itself against injury.
The best way to avoid an exercise-related foot stress fracture is to become educated about the body’s limitations and to work within those boundaries. It is important to be in proper condition for the activity to be pursued and not to attempt more than the body can handle. Activities should take place in a safe environment that is suited to whatever physical exertion is planned. It is also wise to have adequate equipment and clothing, and particularly the proper shoes, for any planned activity.
Eating well-balanced meals and getting proper rest can also help an individual to avoid foot stress fracture, whether due to heavy physical activity or because of a bone disease. Foods with a high level of calcium are particularly helpful in building and strengthening bone. Women in particular should take care in these areas as they tend to be more prone to stress fractures.
Common symptoms of a foot stress fracture include gradually developing pain that goes away with rest, but becomes worse with any kind of weight-bearing activity, and tenderness at the actual site of the fracture. There is often also swelling around the ankles and on the top of the foot. Some individuals may also have bruising, though this does not always happen.