It’s commonly believed that fractures are the result of a single incident where a lot of pressure or force is placed upon the bone, breaking it. This is generally true; however, stress fractures are a bit different and trickier to diagnose.
Stress fractures are tiny cracks in the bone, created by recurring pressure. This most commonly happens to athletes who overuse their bones without giving their body the proper time to heal itself. Stress fractures are normally found in bones of the feet, legs and pelvis, as this is where our body absorbs the force that comes from walking, running or jumping. Women are twice as likely as men to get this type of injury, and your risk increases as you age and your bone density declines. Others at an increased risk for stress fractures are those who are very tall or very overweight (increasing the force applied to your legs), people who are exercising without proper equipment (for example, running without properly cushioned shoes) and those who have weak bones (most commonly people who have osteoporosis).
The biggest indicator of a stress fracture is pain, which may be accompanied by swelling, tenderness to the touch, or by bearing weight on the area. This pain often starts at the end of an activity, resolving with rest, but if not addressed starts to appear for longer periods during exercise as well as at rest. You should see your doctor if you are experiencing pain at rest or with minimal activity. Especially if it doesn’t respond to ice, rest, and elevation.
Your doctor may be able to diagnose a stress fracture with your medical history and a physical exam, and will also ask you questions about how long the pain has been present, what makes the pain better or worse, and how it has evolved. In addition, they will likely recommend an x-ray, Bone Scan, Computed Tomography (CT) or Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) test to get a picture of the break or breaks.
Once diagnosed, it is helpful to limit putting weight on the affected area, and important to stop the activity that initiated the injury until you are properly healed. Rest (likely 4-12 weeks), ice and elevation are important to helping the fracture heal and be careful not to get back into activity too quickly. Your doctor may also recommend a boot, brace, cast or crutches to help you heal properly.
Our Alexandria and Woodbridge imaging centers offer x-ray, ultrasound and computed tomography (CT at the Woodbridge Imaging Center only) imaging to help diagnose stress fractures or related injuries. Our body imaging specialists also collaborate with Inova Alexandria and Mount Vernon Hospitals, Healthplexs, Inova Advanced Imaging Center, and Insight Imaging’s Fairfax and Arlington, Virginia locations by provide reading and diagnostic services for other imaging such as CT’s and MRI’s. Call today to make an appointment at 703-824-3260.