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What is a Fatigue Fracture?

Jessica Hobby
Jessica Hobby

Fatigue fractures, often called stress fractures, are hairline fractures or cracks in a bone. They are typically caused by repetitive activity such as jumping or running. Fatigue fractures are most common in the lower legs and foot because these bones bear most of the weight in the body.

Fatigue fractures may not always be immediately apparent because they most often develop over time. In some cases, a person may have a stress fracture and not even know. In most cases, those who have a stress fracture will experiences some or all of the most frequent symptoms. Common symptoms include pain that increases and decreases in correlation to physical activity, increased pain over time, swelling and tenderness to the touch.

A cast is sometimes used to treat a fatigue fracture.
A cast is sometimes used to treat a fatigue fracture.

Certain factors increase the likelihood of a person getting a fatigue fracture. People who have weakened bone conditions, especially females who may have osteoporosis, are more susceptible to breaks or fractures of any kind. Additionally, athletes who are consistently partaking in high impact activities such as gymnastics, running and tennis may develop a fatigue fracture. People who begin regimented exercise routines after being primarily sedentary are also at risk. Similarly, those who were born with no foot arches or extremely high arches are more likely to have a stress fracture.

It is not always necessary to visit a physician when a person suspects a fatigue fracture because the treatment is very passive in comparison to other types of breaks. Additionally, fatigue fractures are not easily visible on x-rays. Many times a physician will have to confirm a fatigue fracture with a magnetic resource imaging (MRI) test.

It is commonplace for a doctor to set, and in some cases, re-break a simple or compound fracture. Fatigue fractures cannot be set. Instead, a person with a fatigue fracture must give it time to heal, which could be up to three months or more. Ice can be used to reduce swelling and ease pain and keeping weight off of the affected limb is necessary. In addition, activity must be resumed slowly.

Fatigue fractures can be prevented by easing into new exercise regimens, avoiding sudden changes in an exercise routine and cross-training with low impact activities to give bones a rest. Using the proper exercise equipment and wearing the required footwear aid in reducing the chance of stress fractures. Additionally, people who are born with flat feet may wear arch supports in their shoes to avoid fatigue fractures.

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    • A cast is sometimes used to treat a fatigue fracture.
      By: kameel
      A cast is sometimes used to treat a fatigue fracture.