Symptoms and causes

Symptoms

At first, you might barely notice the pain associated with a stress fracture, but it tends to worsen with time. The tenderness usually originates from a specific spot and decreases during rest. You might have swelling around the painful area.

When to see a doctor

Contact your doctor if your pain becomes severe or persists even at rest.

Causes

Stress fractures often result from increasing the amount or intensity of an activity too quickly.

Bone adapts gradually to increased loads through remodeling, a normal process that speeds up when the load on the bone increases. During remodeling, bone tissue is destroyed (resorption), then rebuilt.

Bones subjected to unaccustomed force without enough time for recovery resorb cells faster than your body can replace them, which makes you more susceptible to stress fractures.

Risk factors

Factors that can increase your risk of stress fractures include:

  • Certain sports. Stress fractures are more common in people who participate in sports such as track and field, basketball, tennis, dance or gymnastics.
  • Increased activity. Stress fractures often occur in people who suddenly shift from a sedentary lifestyle to an active training regimen or who rapidly increase the intensity, duration or frequency of training sessions.
  • Sex. Women, especially those who have abnormal or absent menstrual periods, are at higher risk of developing stress fractures.
  • Foot problems. People who have flat feet or high, rigid arches are more likely to develop stress fractures. Worn footwear contributes to the problem.
  • Weakened bones. Conditions such as osteoporosis can weaken your bones and make it easier for stress fractures to occur.
  • Previous stress fractures. Having had one or more stress fractures puts you at higher risk of having more.
  • Lack of nutrients. Eating disorders and lack of vitamin D and calcium can make bones more likely to develop stress fractures.

Complications

Some stress fractures don't heal properly, which can cause chronic pain. If underlying causes are not addressed, you may be at higher risk of additional stress fractures.

Aug. 16, 2016
References
  1. deWeber, K. Overview of stress fractures. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed June 30, 2016.
  2. Stress fractures. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=a00112. Accessed June 30, 2016.
  3. Stress fractures. American College of Sports Medicine. http://www.acsm.org/search-results?q=stress%20fractures. Accessed June 30, 2016.