Stress fractures are small cracks or breaks in the bone. They can happen anywhere in the body, but they are particularly common in the metatarsals of the foot.
These bones connect the ankle to the toes, and they play a vital role in the correct functioning of your feet. Any problems with the metatarsals have serious consequences for your mobility.
How Do Metatarsals Work?
Your entire body weight goes through your feet every time you take a step. Your feet must absorb this pressure effectively to avoid constant injury. In effect, the metatarsals are your shock absorbers. They’re also part of the foot arch and act as stabilisers.
Who Is Most at Risk from Stress Fractures?
Not surprisingly, the metatarsals take a constant pounding, although that’s what they’re designed to do. It’s usually overuse which makes them susceptible to injury so sportspeople, members of the military or anyone who spends a lot of time on their feet can be at risk.
Additional Causes of Stress Factors
- Senior ladies can find their bone health deteriorates due to hormonal changes, which reduces bone density (osteoporosis). This makes the bones very fragile.
- Low levels of calcium and/or vitamin D – both essential for good bone health.
- Foot conditions such as high arches or flat feet affect balance and posture, and overload certain areas of the feet.
- Being overweight also adds pressure to the metatarsals.
- Biomechanical issues – hip or knee problems for example, which affect gait and posture.
How Do You Spot a Stress Fracture?
Stress fractures are painful but not necessarily at first. Initially, you may notice a little swelling but nothing more. Don’t ignore this, or any changes in your feet, even if they seem insignificant at the time. There’s bound to be a reason, and if you ignore a stress fracture it’s likely to get worse.
Stress fractures tend to follow a pattern. At first, the pain is mild, and it may ease when you rest. As time goes on it’ll get worse, even without intense physical activity.
Eventually, the pain increases and persists, and you may notice swelling and tenderness around the affected area. Wearing any kind of shoes, and indeed walking at all, will become extremely uncomfortable.
How Are Stress Fractures Treated?
If you suspect you have a stress fracture, there are certain things you can do immediately.
- Stop doing sports at once.
- Rest the foot as much as possible.
- Ensure your shoes fit properly and provide good support and cushioning.
- Review your diet – are you getting enough vitamin D and calcium?
- Leave the high heels in the cupboard.
- Apply an ice pack to the painful area (wrapped in a tea towel to avoid ice burn) to reduce swelling and pressure on the fracture.
- Take an anti-inflammatory pain reliever such as ibuprofen (but always check with a pharmacist or doctor before taking new medication).
Hopefully, these measures will help to alleviate the symptoms and prevent the fracture from getting any worse. However, it’s always wise to get a second opinion.
Talk to a Podiatrist
At Feet By Pody, we can support your recovery in a variety of ways.
- Advice on footwear.
- Strengthening and stretching exercises.
- Custom orthotics to cushion and stabilise your feet.
- Padding and strapping to support and ease the pain.
- Biomechanical assessment to review posture and gait.
Further tests may be helpful, and we can guide you in the right direction – an X-ray or MRI for example.
For reassuring advice talk to an experienced podiatrist at one of our London foot clinics.