What is a stress fracture?

A stress fracture occurs when an abnormal amount of stress is placed on a normal bone, such as when a runner rapidly increases his mileage rather than gradually progressing to longer distances.

Other types of stress fractures can occur in the spine, and are often seen in athletes who participate in sports such as gymnastics, cheerleading and football.

A stress fracture occurs from overuse and develops over time due to repeated trauma. Stress fractures occur most often in athletes and in the lower leg and foot.

This answer provided for NATA by the Weber State University Athletic Training Education Program.

Stress fractures are bone injuries that affect less than 1 percent of the population. They are exacerbated by running, walking, marching, or jumping. These overuse injuries are the result of repeated tensile or compressive stresses on bones, most commonly the long bones of the leg. Certain factors such as previous injuries, acute increase in activity, prolonged glucocorticoid use, weakened bones and female gender increase the risk of stress fractures. Interventions that have been associated with improving outcomes in patients with stress fractures are use of shock absorbing inserts, calcium/vitamin D supplementation, and training regimen modifications.

Dr. Christopher P. Chiodo, MD
Orthopedic Surgeon

Stress fractures are hairline cracks in a bone. In young people, these can develop as the result of overexertion or prolonged high-impact exercise, such as running or tennis. But they may also occur in middle-aged or elderly people, especially women, who experience a reduction in bone density (osteopenia) or the more severe condition known as osteoporosis. People with such conditions may develop stress fractures even as a result of normal daily activities, such as walking. In the feet, stress fractures most often occur in the metatarsal bones (the long bones leading to the toes), but they can also occur in the heel.

Dr. Jeanne Morrison, PhD
Family Practitioner

Let me give you an analogy of a stress fracture. A stress fracture is like a "coat hanger" that you bend a certain number of times and it breaks. The bones are very similar, except for the fact that you go to bed at night and the bones can heal. So what happens with a stress fracture, there is force on the bone and the bones do not have time to heal. They typically occur in specific locations. They occur in the second or third metatarsals of the foot, in the tibia or in the hip area. It is more common with people who have  osteoporosis or weak bones or individuals who have been at bedrest for a prolonged period of time (regardless of age).

Stacy Wiegman, PharmD
Pharmacy Specialist

A stress fracture is pain resulting after a bout of intense physical activity. Usually the pain of a stress fracture will go away after you rest and will increases any time you exercise. If your stress fracture remains troublesome, try using ice or NSAID pain relievers. If your pain does not leave within a few days, talk to your doctor.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.