Tests and diagnosis

By Mayo Clinic Staff

While doctors can sometimes diagnose a stress fracture from the medical history and physical exam alone, imaging tests are often needed to confirm the diagnosis.

  • X-rays. In many cases, stress fractures aren't apparent on regular X-rays taken shortly after the time your signs and symptoms begin. It often takes several weeks — and sometimes longer than a month — for evidence of stress fractures to show up on X-rays.
  • Bone scan. A few hours before a bone scan, you'll receive a small dose of radioactive material through an intravenous line. The radioactive substance accumulates most in areas where bones are being repaired — showing up on the scan image as a bright white spot. However, many types of bone problems look alike on bone scans, so the test isn't very specific for stress fractures.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). MRI uses radio waves and a strong magnetic field to produce detailed images of your internal structures. MRI usually can visualize stress fractures within the first week of injury, and this type of test is better able to distinguish between stress fractures and soft tissue injuries.
Jan. 24, 2014