A stress fracture is a small break in the bone caused by mechanical stress from doing repeated activities. This happens when overexertion exhausts the muscle fibers, making them ineffective in absorbing shock. The overload of stress gets transferred to the bones, resulting in a hairline crack known as a stress fracture.
A drastic increase in the intensity and amount of your physical activity is typically the main cause of a stress fracture. This health condition is also a form of overuse injury and usually affects the bones of the lower leg including the shin, ankle, and metatarsal bones.
Pain when using the injured limb is the most common symptom of a stress fracture. The healing time generally takes six to eight weeks depending on the extent of your injury. To speed up your recovery from a stress fracture, here are some home management tips.
Rest and Immobilize the Injured Area
According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS), rest is the most important part of the treatment process. Avoid putting weight on the affected extremity and forego the activity that caused the injury in the first place. Participate in a pain-free physical activity while you are on the road to recovery.
Resuming your physical activity too quickly can result in an even bigger stress fracture, which will take a longer time to heal. Depending on the affected area, you can wear a leg brace, an ankle brace, or a toe protector to immobilize and protect the injury while it heals.
Manage the Swelling
Swelling is a natural inflammatory response after an injury. It increases the blood flow and the temperature in the injured area to aid the healing process. However, although it functions to help the body heal on its own, too much swelling can be counterproductive. Aside from pain, excessive swelling can also impede the blood circulation in an area as small as the ankle which has a limited space to accommodate an increase in size.
To manage the swelling, you can apply an ice pack to the injured area. If an ice pack is not available, you can use a bag of frozen peas or ice cubes wrapped in a towel as an alternative. Avoid putting the ice in direct contact with the skin. Limit the cold therapy to 15-20 minutes at a time.
Gravity also tends to make your blood pool in the injured leg. To counter this, elevate the injured limb by propping it on 2-3 layers of pillows.
Resume Your Normal Activities Gradually
Even if you are already weeks into your recovery, resume your daily activities and training gradually to avoid aggravating your injury. Get a clearance from your doctor and ask for recommendations on what activities you are already allowed to take part in.
If you can’t afford to stay at home during your recovery period, you need to use mobility aids to help with your movement and balance. There are many mobility aids you can choose from depending on your needs and personal preference, including walking canes designed to complement the stature of male patients, folding canes that are easy to dismantle and reassemble for travel purposes, and folding crutches that are portable and easy to store away.
Wear the Right Footwear
Your footwear is crucial in your recovery as it can improve or exacerbate your condition. Choose shoes that provide additional support, sufficient cushioning, and adequate traction to prevent falling and slipping accidents. For comfort purposes, wear shoes that have good ventilation and wide soles. In some cases, you might need to wear shoe inserts to achieve the best fit.
Stress fractures can heal by themselves especially if your feet are well-rested. However, if you notice a severe deformity or if the pain is steadily getting worse, consult your doctor for further assessment and treatment.