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Stress Fractures of the Foot

What is it?

Stress fractures can occur in various bones of the body when an abrupt increase in activity leads to excessive stress on the bone and impairs the bone repair process. Stress fractures are typically associated with recent increase in activity or intense sport/exercise. Stress fractures can also occur when activity increases or resumes after a period of inactivity. In the foot, they are most commonly seen either in the metatarsal bones (bones on top of the foot that join the toes) or the calcaneus (heel bone).

What symptoms does it cause?

A stress fracture in the foot will present as pain with running and walking that is relieved with rest and avoiding weight-bearing. The bone that is affected will usually be tender to the touch.

How is it diagnosed?

The diagnosis of a stress fracture is made by your physician via discussion, physical exam, and imaging. An X-ray will initially be done. Stress fractures may not always show up on an initial X-ray. If suspicion for a stress fracture is high, an MRI or bone scan may be obtained to pick up more subtle changes.

How is it treated?

The key to treatment of stress fractures is rest and avoiding impact activities. On average, it takes 6 to8 weeks for a stress fracture to heal, but sometimes it can take several months. How long it takes and what treatment is used depends on which bone is affected. Some bones require completely laying off of the foot by using crutches. A cam boot is often used to protect and immobilize the foot. To stay fit during the healing period, you may want to focus on upper extremity and core strengthening. Check with your physician first before participating in other non-weight bearing activities.

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Foot and Ankle Surgeon is Athlete at Heart

Ahmed Sonya

Dr. Sonya Ahmed is the chief of foot and ankle surgery in the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at UC San Diego Health. See how this 1996 Olympic hopeful vaulted her way through medical school. Read article.

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