Symptoms and Signs of Stress Fracture

Medical Author:
Medically Reviewed on 2/5/2022

Doctor's Notes on Stress Fracture Symptoms, Treatment, and Recovery Time

A stress fracture is usually a hairline break in the bone caused by repeated stress to the bone. The primary signs and symptoms are bone pains especially when the bone is repeatedly stressed. In some patients, once the stress stops, the pain stops or eases off. Localized swelling may occur and there may be point or spot tenderness in the area where the bone is fractured. If not diagnosed, the pain will continue to be noticed more often during stress, and pain at night is a common symptom. Some individuals may have chronic pain even when the fracture is not stressed. Often, stress fractures may not be seen in X-rays.

Causes of stress factors are overuse injuries usually occurring in athletes or military recruits, but anyone can get them. Some stress fractures are more likely to be caused by certain sports. For example, runners are likely to get tibial stress fractures while basketball players are more likely to develop navicular bone fractures in the foot.

What Are the Treatments for a Stress Fracture?

The immediate treatment is to stop whatever activity (football, work-related movements, for example) caused the stress fracture. The following includes suggestions for the treatment of stress fractures:

  • Rest: no activity that caused the fracture for about 6-8 weeks for most individuals
  • Apply an ice bag off and on the fractured area for about 20-30 minutes.
  • Pain control (preferably over the counter)
  • Devices used to protect area of stress fracture (keep area immobile and non-weight bearing until patient is healed and/or pain free)
    • Boot
    • Brace
    • Cast
    • Crutches
    • Surgery (infrequently): promote bone healing and/or alignment

Your orthopedic doctor can design a treatment plan for your condition.

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Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.