You’ve probably heard the phrase, “no pain, no gain,” but in some cases, what you gain from the pain is actually more pain and less time playing, running, or doing whatever your favorite activity involves. A stress fracture is one of those times pain should prevent you from playing. 

At Dr. Louis Keppler & Associates in Independence, Ohio, our staff of dedicated experts wants you to live an active, healthy lifestyle that includes exercise and sports. However, trying to play through the pain of a stress fracture could ultimately lead to a worse injury that requires a longer recovery time. One of the goals of sports medicine is to help you heal so that you can play. 

Stress fracture, defined

You may be wondering what, exactly, a stress fracture is, and how it’s different from other fractures. Usually, when you fracture a bone, it happens in a single incident, like a fall or an accident. A stress fracture is different in that it occurs slowly. 

When you perform the same motion again and again, and when that motion creates stress on your bones, you’re at risk of a stress fracture. It’s an injury that’s common among long-distance runners. Think about how, with each step, your bones absorb the force of the impact. In newer athletes, or those who have poor technique, a stress fracture is the result of repetitive trauma. 

Since stress fractures are the result of repetitive trauma, they often occur in your feet, shins, hips, and lower back — the areas of your body that are particularly important in absorbing impact. 

Risk factors for stress fractures

Some common risk factors for stress injuries include: 

  • Ramping up your activity level too quickly
  • Poor technique
  • Switching from one running surface to another, such as from the gym to the road
  • Poor nutrition
  • High-impact sports, like running, basketball, tennis, track and field, or gymnastics

Some risk factors can be modified, and if you’ve had stress fractures before, or have some other reason to believe you may have an elevated risk, making changes to lower your risk is a good idea. For example, begin any new activity slowly, increasing in small increments. If you know you’re going to be playing on a different surface, make the transition as gradually as possible. 

Early treatment makes a difference

The sooner a stress fracture is treated, the better your outcome is likely to be. Waiting can result in improper healing, arthritis, or the need for surgery. The fracture can worsen and the bones can become misaligned. 

You may be tempted to ignore the pain or think that it will clear up on its own. However, if you continue to inflict trauma on your bones, the fracture will get worse and so will the pain. 

Treatment for stress fractures

One of the reasons so many athletes find stress fractures difficult to deal with, besides the pain they cause, is that they have to stop the activity that caused the injury. Because stress fractures are overuse injuries, healing requires resting the injured body part. 

We may also suggest ice, over-the-counter pain relievers, and eventually nonimpact exercise. Healing takes time, and it can be difficult to wait, but allowing your fracture to heal completely means a safer return to activity. 

If you suspect you may have a stress fracture, or think you’re at high risk of developing a repetitive use injury, schedule an appointment with us at Dr. Louis Keppler & Associates. We’re happy to answer your questions and offer guidance on protecting yourself.

 Dr. Keppler is a practicing surgeon and member of the following organizations:

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