Why You Shouldn't Ignore a Stress Fracture

Aug 01, 2023
Why You Shouldn't Ignore a Stress Fracture
Also called hairline fractures, stress fractures are small — but that doesn't mean it’s okay to ignore them. Without prompt treatment, a stress fracture can cause significant complications. Here’s why immediate care is essential.

Stress fractures are common, especially among athletes and older people with osteoporosis. You might know stress fractures by their nickname — hairline fractures. But just because they’re small, doesn’t mean it’s alright to ignore them. 

Stephen Lazaroff, DPM, FACFAS, and Joel S Segalman, FACFAS, FACFAO, offer skilled care for stress fractures in patients at Performance Foot & Ankle Specialists, LLC, as well as tips to help prevent hairline fractures in the future. In this post, learn about the symptoms associated with stress fractures and why prompt medical treatment is critical.

Quick facts about stress fractures

Stress fractures frequently happen as a result of repetitive stress or overuse injuries. Running is a major cause of stress fractures, along with other activities involving repeated impacts. Beginning a new exercise or changing your routine too rapidly is another potential cause.

Some people develop stress fractures as a result of osteoporosis, a bone condition that tends to occur as we age (especially in women). In osteoporosis, old bone breaks down as part of the normal bone replacement cycle, but your body doesn’t replace the bone or doesn’t replace it as quickly, leaving bones weak and brittle. These areas of weakness are far more prone to developing tiny hairline fractures.

Symptoms to look for

Like any fracture, a stress fracture often causes pain, especially when you place weight on the bone or use the bone during an activity. But they can cause other symptoms, like:

  • Swelling
  • Bruising
  • Tenderness to the touch

Hairline fractures, sometimes overlooked, are so small that you might attribute their symptoms to another cause, like a strenuous workout or even the aches and pains of getting older. If you have these symptoms, you should seek medical attention, especially if they persist or worsen.

Why prompt medical care is essential

A stress fracture might be small but it’s still a fracture. Like any other type of fracture, stress fractures require medical expertise to help heal, relieve symptoms, and prevent further damage and more problems.

Fracture progression

When you ignore a hairline fracture, you’re at risk of having it develop into a more serious fracture. That means you may need more involved care, including potential surgery to repair a bone or the surrounding tissues. 

Chronic disability

Pain is the primary symptom of stress fractures. Discomfort can range from a dull, persistent ache to a sharp pain that intensifies during activity. Some fractures can cause problems with sleep, making it hard to fall asleep or waking you when you change positions. Over time, that pain can cause you to limp or change your gait in other ways, leading to additional pain and limiting your mobility. 

Increased risk of complications

Delaying treatment can lead to the risk of complications like delayed healing or healing problems. The ends of the bone may not heal properly, or changes in your gait might lead to arthritis in your joints. If the stress fracture leads to a major fracture, you also increase your risk of infection.

Increased risk of future injuries

Finally, if you have a stress fracture, it could be a sign of osteoporosis or a metabolic problem that affects bone integrity. Evaluating your stress fracture allows us to get to the root cause to correct medical issues or athletic-related concerns, like practice or technique problems, to help avoid stress fractures or more serious injuries in the future.

Advanced treatment for your stress fracture

If you suspect you have a stress fracture, don’t ignore it. Request an appointment online or over the phone today with the Performance Foot & Ankle Specialists team in Waterbury, Connecticut, and learn how we can help.