Bone is made of a living tissue that is constantly being removed and created. It is normal for force through a bone to cause microscopic damage that the body quickly repairs. If the damage is too much or too repetitive or the body’s repair systems are compromised (fatigue, illness, lack of recovery), then a particular bone can become progressively weakened in one spot.
Stress injuries can be anything from a slight weakening/bruising of the bone to a displaced fracture (and everything in between)
Stress Fracture Causes
Stress fractures of the lower limb, are commonly seen in the bones of the foot and lower leg (shin). Stress fractures are common in endurance and high-impact athletes. They are the consequence of repetitive sub-maximal loads which creates an imbalance between bone resorption (breakdown) and bone formation (building).
This causes a crack initiation or stress reaction, usually at the location of the highest stress. If excessive loading continues and the crack cannot heal the damage will increase and can progress to a true stress fracture in the bone.
Stress Fractures Symptoms
A stress fracture will usually start as a dull ache during weight bearing and training. Usually, the pain gets worse over time with activity and eventually, the pain may be so persistent even without activity and become constant over time.
If you sustain a stress fracture you may feel a sharp, pinpoint pain brought on by loading or pressing on the affected bone (usually only the size of a single finger) and mild swelling or bruising may be present also.
From a muscle perspective, stress fractures may be a consequence of fatigued muscles, which means the bone absorbs excessive force. The bony alignment, muscular balance, and movement patterns of the lower limb can also be important in preventing a stress fracture due to variations in these leading to a change in the load that may place extra stress on certain points of a bone/s.
Stress Fracture Treatment
Physiotherapy rehabilitation for early-stage stress fractures can take around 6-8 weeks on average to return to full activity. However, more severe cases require longer rehabilitation and may even require medical intervention. Your qualified Physio will identify the risk factors that contributed to sustaining stress fractures and develop a plan to continue to exercise around the injury, manage the injury, and ensure a smooth road to recovery.