Stress Fractures: A Physiotherapist’s Guide
Stress Fractures: Understanding and Managing with Physiotherapy
Stress fractures, small cracks in bones, often occur in athletes and active individuals. These fractures are particularly common in weight-bearing bones of the foot, tibia, and lumbar spine. Physiotherapy plays a crucial role in both recovery and prevention.
Causes and Risk Factors
Why Do Stress Fractures Occur?
Overuse and repetitive force are the primary culprits. When muscles become fatigued and cannot absorb shock effectively, bones take on the excess stress, leading to fractures. Rapid increases in physical activity, changing training surfaces, unsuitable footwear, and underlying conditions like osteoporosis are significant contributors.
Recognising the Signs
Identifying Stress Fractures Early
The most common symptom is pain during activity, which eases with rest. These fractures frequently affect the lower leg and foot, with common sites including the metatarsal and tibia bones. Athletes in sports with repetitive running and landing actions, like track and field, are particularly at risk.
Understanding the Higher Risk in Female Athletes
Research indicates that female athletes are more prone to stress fractures. This increased risk is often linked to the female athlete triad: eating disorders, irregular menstrual cycles, and osteoporosis.
Diagnosis and Treatment
How Are Stress Fractures Diagnosed and Treated?
Diagnosis typically involves imaging tests like X-rays, CT scans, or MRIs, with MRIs offering the highest sensitivity. Treatment focuses on rest and refraining from the activity causing the fracture. A multidisciplinary approach, including physiotherapists, dietitians, and psychologists, is often most effective.
Avoiding Future Stress Fractures
Preventive measures are critical. Gradually increasing activity levels, engaging in cross-training, maintaining a balanced diet, using proper equipment, and regular musculoskeletal screenings can all help in prevention.
The Importance of Professional Guidance
For athletes and active individuals, recognising, treating, and preventing stress fractures is essential. Consulting a physiotherapist or sports doctor is crucial for personalised management.
What to Do?
Seeking Professional Advice
If you suspect a stress fracture or want to learn more about prevention, consult a physiotherapist, sports doctor or GP. They can assess your condition and provide imaging for diagnosis, tailored treatment and prevention strategies.
Stress Fracture Related Articles
Spinal Stress Fractures
- Spondylolysis (Back Stress Fracture)
- Lumbar Stress Fractures (Cricket Fast Bowlers)
- Rib Stress Fracture