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HealthInfo Waitaha Canterbury

Stress fractures of the foot

Whawhatinga tanukutanga o te waewae

A stress fracture is a crack in a bone caused by overuse. By far the most common place to have a stress fracture is in one of your feet.

Stress fractures are common among athletes and may develop over days, weeks or months. They're caused by too much stress on the bones of your foot. They may be related to a mechanical imbalance in your foot or an underlying condition such as osteoporosis.

Pain and swelling usually develop gradually and get worse over time. The pain tends to get worse with activity and will initially improve when you rest, but it will quickly become a constant dull throbbing ache, even at night. This becomes a worse sharp pain when you put weight on it.

You're more likely to get a stress fracture if you:

Self-care for a stress fracture

You should take pain relief then see your general practice team, physiotherapist or podiatrist to diagnose and treat the fracture. You shouldn't work through the pain.

If the fracture is treated early, you can avoid more serious problems, such as a stress fracture that will not heal or one that turns into a bigger break in the bone. You may need orthotic supports, casting or bracing.

You'll need to rest your foot and allow the bone to heal. When you've been pain-free for at least four weeks, your doctor, physiotherapist, or podiatrist will supervise your rehabilitation and a gradual return to activity.

Returning to activity too early or increasing the amount of activity too quickly may result in the stress fracture returning. You're most vulnerable to this happening during the first four weeks of the healing process. This can be a frustrating time for active people, but it's essential to rest. You may be able to substitute non-weight-bearing activities such as swimming or aqua jogging instead.

A podiatrist may also prescribe custom orthotics for long-term control and prevention of another stress fracture.

Written by Podiatry NZ. Adapted by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed April 2023.


Page reference: 238380

Review key: HICCA-28239