Doctors can sometimes diagnose a stress fracture from a medical history and a physical exam, but imaging tests are often needed.
- X-rays. Stress fractures often aren't apparent on regular X-rays taken shortly after your pain begins. It can take several weeks — and sometimes longer than a month — for evidence of stress fractures to show 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 specific for stress fractures.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). An MRI uses radio waves and a strong magnetic field to produce detailed images of your internal structures. An MRI usually can visualize stress fractures within the first week of injury, and can visualize lower-grade stress injuries (stress reactions) before an x-ray shows changes. This type of test is also better able to distinguish between stress fractures and soft tissue injuries.
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- deWeber, K. Overview of stress fractures. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed June 30, 2016.
- Stress fractures. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=a00112. Accessed June 30, 2016.
- Stress fractures. American College of Sports Medicine. http://www.acsm.org/search-results?q=stress%20fractures. Accessed June 30, 2016.