Stress Fractures

Stress Fractures

Stress fractures are tiny cracks in a bone due to repetitive actions and forces that fracture a bone that isn’t at full strength. This means that the demands you are placing on that bone are more than the bone can handle.

Stress fractures most commonly occur in runners however they also commonly occur when your sport places high demands on the bones of your body. This is often seen in sports such as gymnastics or bowling in cricket. It is also not uncommon for stress fractures to appear from your everyday life activities when bones are weakened by conditions such as osteoporosis.

Causes:

There are two scenarios in which stress fractures can occur:

These are from either excessive force through an abnormal bone or from excessive force through a normal bone. A weight-bearing bone of the foot and lower leg are the most common places of stress fractures occurring. If you are someone who is starting a new exercise program you may be at risk of a stress fracture if you push yourself too hard too soon.

When your muscles become fatigued they are unable to absorb added shock and this may overload the bone which causes a tiny crack. This is one of the reasons why a stress fracture is referred to as an overuse injury.

They are commonly seen when someone increases the intensity or the amount of their exercise too quickly. Other causes may be due to the surface such as running on concrete or from improper equipment such as poor running shoes.

Studies have shown that sports with repetitive actions involving running and landing are the most vulnerable to stress fractures. This is most commonly seen in sports such as track and field, gymnastics, basketball, tennis and running. Without the required rest between workouts, these sports all carry a high risk of repetitive stress which can result in stress fractures.

Stress fractures are more common in female athletes than males. Whilst stress fractures do affect people of all ages who play sports that involve repetitive actions, women are more susceptible due to osteoporosis, eating disorders and infrequent menstrual cycles. The chance of a stress fracture increases as bone mass decreases, consulting a sports dietician is a fantastic way to prevent these risk factors.

Diagnosis:

To diagnose your stress fractures your myotherapist or doctor will evaluate your risk factors through X-rays, MRI or CT scans. Having all these options is key as sometimes stress fractures may not show up on X-rays. Bone scans are useful to identify spots that may indicate a tumour or stress fracture.

Treatment:

To treat a stress fracture the most important factor is getting optimal amounts of rest! Especially from whatever the activity was that caused the stress fracture initially. This period of time is usually from around six to eight weeks for the injury to heal. If you resume your usual activity too quickly it can become much harder to heal and can even cause larger stress fractures that will never fully heal.

Prevention:

If you are participating in a new activity such as a sport it is important to set incremental goals for yourself. This means you will be able to build your strength up over time and not overexert yourself.

Another fantastic method is to alternate your activities. One example of this would be swimming one day then cycling the next day. This allows you to train different muscle groups and strengthen your entire body without placing too much strain on single muscles or bones.

One of the best measures you can take to prevent stress fractures is to undergo a musculoskeletal screening by your trained myotherapist. It is important to remember that you can return to sports at your normal playing level if you recognise the symptoms early and treat them appropriately.

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