A stress fracture in the foot is a fairly common occurrence. Considering the small size of the many foot bones that bear the weight of our body, not to mention allow us to jump, pivot or run, it is remarkable that injuries to them are not a frequent occurrence. The good news is that hairline fractures in the foot usually heal on their own with minimal treatment.
In the following article, we spend some time discussing what a stress fracture in the foot is, its symptoms and how to treat one (including how some of BraceAbility’s foot boots for stress fractures can help). We also touch on a few other small foot fractures where one might benefit from the use of a broken foot boot.
What Is a Stress Fracture of the Foot?
There are a number of bones in the foot that might sustain a hairline fracture, with some of the more common sites being the metatarsal bones, the calcaneus (heel), the fibula (outer bone of lower leg/ankle), talus (small bone of the ankle) and the navicular bone (top of the midfoot). Metatarsal foot fractures are the most common, especially breaks to the longer, thinner second and third metatarsals.
A stress fracture refers to a small crack or severe bruising to one’s bone, often due to overuse and/or repetitive activity. Specifically, a sudden change in activity is often to blame for a stress fractured foot, such as an increase in workout intensity or duration, a change in workout surfaces or starting a new athletic regimen.
Those involved in sports that involve a lot of running are especially vulnerable to stress fracture foot pain. Osteoporosis and other conditions that weaken one’s bones also increase one’s risk of a hairline foot fracture.
The most common symptom of a stress fracture in the foot is pain that develops gradually and usually goes away with rest. Swelling, tenderness and bruising are other common stress fracture foot symptoms.
It is important not to ignore foot stress fracture symptoms. If one “muscles through” the pain and continues the irritating activity, one’s stress fracture may advance to a fully fractured foot bone, extending one’s foot fracture healing time.
Treatment for Stress Fracture in Foot
Stress fracture foot treatment centers around relieving pain and allowing one’s fracture to heal. One of the major components of care involves following the steps of RICE—rest, ice, compress and elevate the foot. Doing so helps inflammation to subside and healing to occur.
A doctor might recommend additional steps for foot stress fracture treatment, such as modifying one’s activity for the typical six to eight weeks that make up stress fracture foot healing time. Specifically, one may need to switch to athletic activities like swimming or walking that put less stress on the foot and leg.
One may also need to use crutches, a boot for a broken foot or other protective footwear to reduce stress on the injury site for a period of time. Certain injuries, such as a Jones fracture of the foot’s fifth metatarsal that are trickier to treat may require casting.
Some stress foot fracture types will require foot surgery to heal. This typically involves use of medical hardware (think pins, screws, plates) to internally support and fixate ones bones in place as healing occurs. In such instances, one’s fractured foot healing time is usually extended.
But of course, these are just general guidelines, with treatment varying depending upon the type and location of the foot bone fracture, whether displacement occurs and even a patient’s age. Following, we go into a bit more details on a few other fractures of the foot.
Navicular, Cuboid and Other Midfoot Fractures
The Lisfranc joint is the area where one’s metatarsal bones (long ones leading to the toes) and tarsal bones (cuboid, navicular and three cuneiform bones) that make up the bony area around the ankle and heel connect.
This area of the foot plays a key role in stabilizing one’s arch and for walking. Therefore, sprains to the ligaments, breaks or dislocations of the bones or an avulsion fracture in this area can be quite problematic.
Mild to moderate ligament sprains can sometimes be treated via a period of non-weight bearing and use of a Lisfranc foot fracture boot. But if a Lisfranc ligament injury coincides with a fracture or dislocation, surgery will likely be required to repair the fracture on the top of the foot and the associated connective tissues.
Navicular foot fractures and the like are typically associated with high-impact or explosive sports, as this area of the foot is fairly stable. In some cases, it may be tough to distinguish between the midfoot ache of a cuboid or navicular fracture and a sprain. Learn more about Lisfranc injuries.
Jones and Avulsion Fractures of the Foot
The outer foot where the fifth metatarsal (little toe) is located is another area that is more prone to injury that may warrant use of a foot fracture boot. Specifically, an avulsion fracture of the foot, where a tendon or ligament pulls a small piece of the bone off, is common in this region. This might occur over time due to repetitive pulling or via a single, high-impact event. A chip fracture of the foot is also relatively common in the ankle.
Like many foot hairline fractures, these usually heal well without surgery. How to heal a fractured foot of this nature usually begins with rest, ice and use of a soft bandage and/or a medical boot for a broken foot. Gentle exercises can also improve muscle strength and promote healing.
If one is dealing with a displaced avulsion fracture of the foot, more extensive treatment measures may be needed.
The aforementioned Jones foot fracture is a tougher break to treat as there is limited blood flow to the region. On the other hand, it is also a less common injury than an avulsion fracture. Both stress fractures and full breaks are possible in this small area of the fifth metatarsal.
This type of stress fracture to the outside of the foot typically requires immobilization via a cast, a boot, or a stiff-soled shoe and possibly a period spent on crutches. Bone stimulation may also be needed for Jones foot fracture treatment due to the limited blood flow to the region.
If one’s bone is displaced or broke in several places or if one’s fractured bone in the foot does not heal adequately, surgery may be needed.
Children’s Foot Stress Fractures
For children, one’s stress fracture foot recovery will also depend on whether the damage occurs along the growth plates at the end of one’s bones. These areas are the last part of the bone to harden, making them especially vulnerable to fracture. Thus, a twist of an ankle is much more likely to cause a fractured growth plate in the foot, whereas an adult would likely sustain just a sprain.
Since these plates determine the length and shape of one’s mature bone, prompt medical attention is key to preventing the growth plate fracture in the foot from causing development problems.
Fractured foot treatment will depend upon a number of factors, including the location of the break, the degree of damage, the mechanism of the injury and more. Generally speaking, this might involve immobilization via a cast or splint, manipulation or surgery, and eventually physical therapy.
Long-term follow-up to make sure everything is healing/developing as it should will also likely be required.
Another break to the foot that is more common with children is a buckle fracture of the foot. This occurs when a compression fracture on one side of the bone causes the bone to bend or buckle toward the damaged side. Again, the softer nature of a child’s bones makes them more vulnerable to such injuries.
Treatment usually involves a period of immobilization either via a cast or boot.