Overview

Stress fractures of the leg are injuries common in runners and athletes. They can be caused through repetitive force sent through a weak bone, and are most likely to appear in the tibia bone or the shinbone followed by the small bones in the forefoot called metatarsals.

Most stress fractures appear over time and may feel similar to shin splints if experienced in the lower leg. Studies have shown that female athletes are more prone to this injury than their male counterparts.

Causes

Common causes of stress fractures in the lower limbs are:

  • Overuse and repetitive stress in the lower limbs through increased running distance or training intensity.
  • Running or performing physical exercise on an unfamiliar surface such as switching from running on grass to running on bitumen or concrete.
  • Inadequate or poorly fitted footwear used whilst training or running.
  • Osteoporosis.
  • Biomechanical abnormalities in the legs.
  • A diet that does not provide adequate calcium intake. Calcium is an important part of a healthy bone structure and the body will leech calcium from bones for other functions if you are not getting enough in your diet. This can lead to bones that are not able to take on extra stress or force.

Symptoms

Depending on where your stress fracture has occurred, there are several ways pain will present itself:

  • Gradual or sudden onset of pain and tenderness around the affected area during exercise or activity – for example the front or inside of the tibia or shinbone.
  • Swelling and tenderness around the site of injury.
  • Pain that subsides at the completion of an aggravating exercise or movement.
  • Inability to place your bodyweight over the affected leg without experiencing pain and discomfort.

Diagnosis

Dan Everson Podiatry will perform a thorough physical examination of the affected area to assess possibility of a stress fracture. Your health and exercise history will be discussed and an X-ray, bone scan or MRI scan may be used to diagnose a stress fracture.

Treatment

A prescribed period of rest and inactivity of 4 to 6 weeks, followed by a gradual return to previous activity can be all that is required to treat some stress fractures. However Dan Everson Podiatry may recommend some of the following treatment methods to ensure a complete recovery:

  • A brace or cast to protect the stress fracture site and limit its exposure to additional stress or trauma.
  • Use of a cane or crutch to keep weight off the area whilst you walk.
  • Testing your mineral levels to assess any potential deficiencies that may contribute to the problem.
  • If you have a foot imbalance or biomechanical abnormality contributing to your condition, Kinetic Orthotics from Dan Everson Podiatry may be prescribed.

Prevention

Dan Everson Podiatry recommends the following activities to help prevent Stress Fractures occurring in the leg:

  • Gradually increase exercise and physical activity levels, duration and distance, particularly when running or jumping.
  • Add exercise variations to your training so that you are achieving the same goals but using your limbs and feet in different ways.
  • Strengthen the muscles in the legs and feet to protect your bones from movement stress.
  • Ensure you are getting enough calcium in your diet based on diet guidelines for your age and demographic.
  • Seek advice from your podiatrist on the most appropriate type of footwear for your activity and lifestyle.
  • Custom orthotics may be prescribed to help prevent an occurrence of this condition in those with an imbalance or poor biomechanical function.

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