What is a Stress Fracture of The Foot?


Stress Fractures in The Foot

If you are a fan of professional sports, you've heard the term "stress fracture" before. That's because it happens to our pros at a high rate of frequency.  But why?

Athletes put a large amount of repetitive force upon their feet and ankles. There is near-constant impact upon the bones of the feet. Runners, soccer players, and basketball players are prime candidates for stress fractures in the foot.

For instance, NBA All-stars Yao Ming and Bill Walton were unstoppable in their prime. But they both faced shortened careers due to stress fractures to their feet. More recently, 76ers rising star Joel Embiid had to sit because of stress fractures to his feet, which led to breaks in the navicular bone. Do a quick search of "stress fractures pro athletes" and you will see a whole bunch of NBA players on the list.


What is a Stress Fracture in The Foot?

When we talk about a stress fractures we are talking about a crack or severe bruising within a bone. Most bones can suffer stress fractures. But the feet and ankles are particularly prone to stress fractures. And stress fractures to the feet can derail your everyday activities. Regular walking or even everyday activities are no fun when you've suffered this injury.

Stress Fractures in the Foot, Ankle, and Leg

Stress fractures happen in the thinner, metatarsal bones of the foot most often. These areas absorb much of the impact of walking and running.

Other bones that incur stress fractures at a high rate:

  • Heel Bone (calcaneus)

  • Fibula (Outer bone of the ankle and lower leg)

  • Navicular (the bone atop your midfoot)

  • Talus (small bone in your ankle joint)

How Do Stress Fractures in the Foot Happen?

We touched on this a bit earlier. Generally, overuse is a major cause of stress fractures. We also have the issue of overuse immediately after a long period with no exercising.

For instance, returning to running too hard too fast after not doing the activity for a long time can lead to stress fractures. It's a case of "too much, too soon" for some returning athletes.  There are also cases when we see people adjust their routine and suffer a stress fracture. Running on pavement after exclusively being a trail runner is an example of this.

More Factors Contributing to Stress Fractures in the Foot

  • Increasing the duration of activities

  • Increasing the intensity of activities

  • Using new shoes that don't fit the foot right or have poor shock-absorbing capability

  • Returning to activity before you should

More Causes of Stress Fractures in the Foot

Bone Insufficiency

A lack of bone density can also lead to stress fractures in the foot. Bone density problems can occur due to several factors:

  • Lack of vitamin D

  • Osteoporosis due to dietary habits

  • Radiation treatments for cancer

Osteoperosis in Female Athletes Can Lead To a Higher Rate Of Stress Fractures in The Foot

Some research indicates increased occurrences of stress fractures in female athletes. One factor that could lead to this is the presence of "the female athlete triad." Premature osteoperosis can develop in female athletes who are dealing with eating disorders. These dietary issues cause a loss in bone density, increasing the chance of stress fractures.

What Are The Symptoms of Stress Fractures in the Foot?


Pain is the main symptom of a stress fracture. When you put weight upon the fracture, the pain will increase.

Other symptoms of stress fractures to the feet and ankles include:

  • Bruising

  • Swelling around the outer ankle or atop the foot

  • Everyday pain that increases due to normal activities

  • Tenderness around the foot

What Should I Do If I Think I Have a Stress Fracture in The Foot

For injuries like this, we use the RICE protocol. You should follow RICE if you think you have a stress fracture to your foot or ankle. Here's what to do. 

  • Rest. This is pretty self-explanatory. Stay off the injured foot if possible. If you have to walk upon it, try to put less weight upon the injury. And wear your most supportive shoes.

  • Ice. Immediately after the injury is the time to apply ice. Using a cold pack in intervals throughout the day is a good way to go to keep swelling down.

  • Compression. Wrap the injury. Use a soft bandage. This will also reduce swelling.

Treating Stress Fractures to the Foot and Ankle


In many cases, a stress fractures heals without the need for surgery. 6-8 weeks is a good idea of how long it'll take to heal.

Of course, during that time you'll need to use the foot less. That means modifying your activities to avoid re-injuring the fracture. Your doctor may also give you protective footwear or apply a cast to keep the fracture from incurring more stress.

What If I Need Surgery for My Stress Fracture?

If you need surgery for the injury, we'll use a procedure called internal fixation. In this case, we use pins, screws, and plates to hold the bones together while they heal.

If you think you have a stress fracture, make an appointment with you doc as soon as possible. He or she will get you back on your feet in no time. 

Good Luck!

Dr. Elton