Stress fractures occur in the foot and ankle when muscles in those areas are weakened from too much or too little use. When this happens, they stop cushioning the foot and ankles from the impact of hitting the ground. Because there is nothing to protect them, the bones of the foot begin to absorb the full impact of each step someone takes. The added stress causes little cracks to form in the bones that are under the most pressure. These cracks are called stress fractures.
Stress fractures are common for individuals whose daily activities cause high levels of impact on their feet and ankles. Individuals who run, play tennis or basketball, or practice gymnastics tend to experience these fractures more frequently. Anyone is susceptible to this problem, though. Individuals who are normally sedentary and suddenly begin an intensive high impact work out may get stress fractures. This is because their muscles are not strong enough to handle and cushion the intensity of their activity. Osteoporosis may also cause someone to get stress fractures, because the disease weakens an afflicted person's bones and makes it easier for them to break down.
The pain from these fractures will occur in the general area of the fracture. It may be intermittent or constant, and will cause sharp or dull pain along with swelling and tenderness. Engaging in any kind of activity, high impact or otherwise, will aggravate the pain. If the intensity of the activity increases before the stress fracture has properly healed, it can cause a full fracture. This is a much more serious problem, and will probably prevent you from applying any pressure on the foot at all.
Treatment can vary depending on the individual and the degree of injury. The primary way to treat a stress fracture is to rest the hurt foot. Some fractures will heal quickly with only a little bit of rest, while others may require a long rest period and the use of crutches. Under certain circumstances, surgery may be required to install support pins around the fracture to assist in healing.
In order to avoid getting stress fractures, make sure to get plenty of calcium and Vitamin-D. They will help to keep your bones strong, and make them less likely to break under pressure. If your new exercise regimen is running or some other kind of high impact activity, set incremental goals on a weekly basis so you can build up muscle strength. For example, if you plan to walk every day, you could ride a bike on some days to take the stress off of your feet. Make sure to wear supportive shoes to better protect you feet.
If you begin to experience any symptoms of stress fractures, you should stop exercising and rest. If the symptoms do not go away, see an orthopedic specialist. Remembering these tips can help you prevent stress fractures to your foot and ankle, and allow you to continue living normally.