What Is Stress Fracture Treatment?
A stress fracture is a small crack in a bone. It usually affects your foot, shin, heel, or lower back, especially if you’re an athlete.
First-Aid Treatment for Stress Fractures
You want to see your doctor. Without treatment, the bone could break completely. In the meantime, follow the RICE guidelines:
- Rest. Avoid weight-bearing activities. Wear a stiff-soled, supportive shoe if necessary.
- Ice. To ease swelling, ice the area for 24 to 48 hours. Wrap an ice pack in a towel and apply for 20 minutes at a time. Never put ice directly on your skin.
- Compression. Wrap a soft bandage around the area to ease swelling.
- Elevation. Use pillows to raise your foot or leg higher than your heart.
Medications for Stress Fractures
You can take over-the-counter medications to manage pain. Doctors suggest acetaminophen instead of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), which may reduce your bone’s ability to heal.
Nonsurgical Treatments for Stress Fractures
Most people don’t need surgery to repair a stress fracture. Along with the RICE plan to reduce pain, your doctor may try one or more of these treatments while your fracture heals:
- Crutches or a cane for support
- Protective footwear like a boot or brace to lessen stress on the fracture
- Casts to keep your fracture in a fixed position while it heals
They’ll also advise you to skip high-impact physical activities like running for 6 to 8 weeks. Try lower-impact exercises like swimming or cycling instead.
Surgery for Stress Fractures
You may need surgery for severe stress fractures that won’t heal on their own. Most often, the doctor will insert fasteners — like pins, screws, plates, or a combination of these — to hold the small bones of your foot and ankle together.
Stress Fracture Recovery
It usually takes 6 to 8 weeks for a stress fracture to heal. The doctor may take X-rays when the pain eases to be sure the fracture has healed.
When the swelling goes down to the point you can see skin creases, you can start putting a little weight on the area. You might still need to use crutches or a cane. It’s usually OK to put your full weight on the area 2 weeks after your symptoms started. Weight-bearing can help the stress fracture heal. But don’t do anything that hurts.
For the next 6 to 8 weeks — or until you’re free of pain — avoid the activity that caused the stress fracture, and avoid putting too much weight on the affected area. If you exercise again too soon, you could delay the healing process. You could even cause damage that may never heal properly.
Early on, the doctor may tell you to alternate active days. If you’re a runner, that means you’d rest the day before and after going for a jog.
When you’re ready to return to the activity, do it slowly. If you rush back in, you could re-injure yourself.
Referenced on 22/05/2021
- American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: “Stress Fractures," “Stress Fractures of the Foot and Ankle.”
- Micheli, L., and Jenkins, M. The Sports Medicine Bible, 1995.
- American Family Physician: “Common Stress Fractures.”
- Cleveland Clinic: “Stress Fractures.”
- Hospital for Special Surgery: “Stress Fractures of the Foot and Ankle.”