Stress Fracture vs. Regular Fractures

A person holding their knee from stress-fracture pain.

Is throbbing in your foot or leg keeping you up at night? Does it prevent you from playing sports and doing other hobbies you enjoy? If you’ve answered yes to these questions, you could have a stress fracture.

When most people think of fractures, they consider broken bones and severe pain. But unlike complete fractures, stress fractures start slowly and become a complete bone breakage before you know it.

Understanding the difference between stress and regular fractures and the impact of each condition can help recognize and treat them before they cause more harm.

What Is a Stress Fracture?

A stress or hairline fracture is a crack that forms over time and appears as bone bruising or swelling. When the swelling goes untreated, it causes pressure on your bone, which can create a fissure.

Stress fractures often occur on weight-bearing bones like your lower legs and feet, like the heel, foot and shin bones. These fractures can worsen with repetitive movements and added bone pressure. For example, you might have bruising on your foot from a previous injury — without rest, you continue straining your bone, causing more pain and eventually a complete fracture.

While stress fractures can be challenging to self-diagnose, you can identify them by these common symptoms:

  • Pain that worsens with physical activities
  • Light or intense swelling around the impacted area
  • Red bruising
  • Tenderness when touching the bruised area
  • Pain that continues after physical activity
  • Noticeable pain when resting
  • Progressively worse discomfort

What Causes a Stress Fracture?

Overuse injuries or recurring muscle and ligament strain can cause a stress fracture. When you have an injury, you might worsen your condition by applying constant pressure on the impacted area. Your muscles and ligaments can only absorb this pressure for so long before transferring it to your bone, causing cracks. Here are some common ways you can get a stress fracture:

  • Increased or intense physical activity like marathon running
  • Doing unusual exercises like running, especially if you’re usually sedentary
  • Doing new sports or activities without proper preparation
  • Changing your workout surface, which can cause more impact than you’re used to. For example, you might switch from running on a treadmill to an unpaved trail.
  • Not having suitable equipment like running shoes to support your feet and absorb impact
  • Overdoing physical activity or intense training without rest days
  • Weak and tired muscles unable to absorb impact
  • Not recovering from injuries properly and putting more strain on them
  • Inflexible and tight muscles may not absorb impact, pushing it toward your bone.
  • Bone weakness from conditions like osteoporosis and vitamin D deficiency

Overuse injuries or recurring muscle and ligament strain can cause a stress fracture.

What Does a Stress Fracture Feel Like?

You can feel pain in and around the affected bone when you have a stress fracture. This discomfort might escalate when you walk or stand and subside or reduce when you stop physical activity.

How to Treat a Stress Fracture

Professional treatment is one of the best ways to treat a stress fracture. Your medical specialist will diagnose and provide treatments depending on the area and severity of your fracture. They can use X-rays, MRIs and CT scans to identify the issue and provide accurate solutions.

  • Take the pressure off: Keep your weight off the fractured area with bed rest.
  • Stop physical activity: Avoid strenuous efforts like sports to prevent straining the fracture further.
  • Ice the impacted area: Reduce inflammation and pressure on the bone by applying an ice pack to the fracture. Wrap the ice pack in a towel to prevent it from damaging your skin. Your specialist can advise how long and when to ice the impacted area.
  • Elevate your injury: Raise your injured limb to reduce swelling and pain. Depending on the location of your injury, place your injured limb with towels, bedding pillows or a sling to prop it up.
  • Take pain medication: Your specialist can prescribe over-the-counter or prescription pain relievers to help with discomfort.
  • Wear a cast or specialized shoe: Depending on your injury, you might require a custom boot or cast to secure the fracture and aid in healing the bone.
  • Use crutches: You might need crutches to avoid putting pressure or straining the injury when walking and standing.
  • Get surgery: While a surgical procedure is an option in severe cases, most stress fractures can heal without an operation. Your medical specialist can prescribe surgery if your bone does not heal as expected or the fracture causes other complications and severe symptoms.

What Is a Regular Fracture?

A regular fracture is partial or complete bone breakage that can happen immediately due to a traumatic injury, causing your bone to split into two or more pieces. These fractures can result in instant and severe pain and additional symptoms, including:

  • Experiencing intense or debilitating pain
  • Inability to move your limbs or the impacted area
  • Body parts that look out of place or at an awkward angle
  • Severe swelling on and around the affected area
  • Bones that appear more prominent or protrude from your skin
  • New bruising that occurs immediately around the impacted area

Causes of a Regular Fracture

Force on a bone sustained in an injury can make it snap. For example, jumping from a high platform onto a hard surface can cause excess impact. This force goes through your muscles and ligaments toward your bones, leading to breakage. Common causes of a regular fracture can include:

  • Impact sustained in a car accident
  • Workplace injury
  • Fall from a tall height
  • Sports injury
  • An object or person striking you with direct force

What Does a Regular Fracture Feel Like?

You can feel immediate and intense pain when you have a regular fracture. Putting pressure on the impacted area can be excruciating. You might have difficulty moving your limbs, standing and walking. You can also experience swelling and bruising on and around the fracture.

Treating a Regular Fracture

Similar to a stress fracture, your doctor will use X-rays, CT scans or an MRI to identify a regular or complete bone fracture. You will likely require surgery to reset and support the bone. Specialists often perform internal fixation procedures, including inserting screws, rods or pins to hold the broken bone together. Rest, wearing a cast and using crutches can be necessary post-procedure to aid healing.

Fractured vs. Broken Foot — What Does a Fractured Foot Feel Like?

A broken bone causes discomfort, bruising, swelling and numbness. Whether you have a bone crack or complete breakage, you can experience intense and recurring pain in your foot or around the bone. Fractured foot pain can be severe when applying weight or pressure to the area. Depending on your injury’s severity, you can have limited to no movement.

Choose Foot & Ankle Surgical Associates for expert bone fracture treatments.

Choose Foot & Ankle Surgical Associates for Expert Bone Fracture Treatments

Whether you have a stress or regular foot fracture, getting professional medical treatment is essential to avoid further complications and damage. That’s why Foot & Ankle Surgical Associates offers comprehensive and expert bone fracture remedies.

We can accurately diagnose your injury and help you return to where you want to be. Our dedicated staff uses advanced technology to rehabilitate your injury. Additionally, we offer same-day or next-day appointments to deliver the immediate attention you need.

Fill out an online form or call us at 360-754-3338 for a consultation.


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