The Difference Between a Fracture and a Stress Fracture

At first you felt a minor pain in your foot. Maybe it was sore when you touched it. Now your foot is swollen, and it’s time to head to the doctor. You may be diagnosed with a stress fracture –  one or more tiny, microscopic cracks in your bone.

Your board-certified orthopedic surgeons at San Diego Sports Medicine & Orthopaedic Center, Inc. inSan Diego are experts at treating all types of fractures. You’re on the road to recovery as soon as you enter the exam room. 

Why did I get a stress fracture?

How did you get a stress fracture? If you love physical activity and sports, you may be more prone to this ailment than a now-and-then weekend warrior. Runners, soccer players, and other sports enthusiasts may develop stress fractures from repetitive force placed on thinner, more delicate bones. In this case, they’re an overuse injury that develops over time. If you’ve been using the wrong equipment (think worn-out tennis shoes), you can develop a stress fracture because your foot isn’t properly protected.

Stress fractures can also result from osteoporosis, a condition in which you lose bone more quickly than your body can replace it, making your bones porous and weak. It’s a common condition of aging. 

Where do stress fractures commonly occur?

Stress fractures often occur in the long bones running down the length of the foot, called the metatarsals. They are most common in the second and third metatarsals. They can also occur in your heel, in the navicular bone on the top of the foot, and in the fibula, the outer, weaker bone in your lower leg. 

What is the best treatment?

Pain is your body’s way of telling you to stop using the part that’s hurting. You’ll need to take a break from physical activity. Elevate the foot or leg if that’s where your stress fracture is located. Apply ice periodically for a couple of days to reduce the swelling and use over-the-counter pain relievers to help with discomfort. 

But don’t rely on only do-it-yourself treatment. If a stress fracture isn’t treated properly, you can develop a complete fracture, which takes longer to heal, or develop arthritis, in which the stress fracture moves into the joint.

You may need a splint or cast depending on which bone has the fracture. Your physician lets you know if you need crutches or a cane. Depending on the injury, you may be able to bear full weight on your leg in a couple of weeks. After the initial rest and recovery, weight-bearing actually helps your bone heal

If the stress fracture is more serious, you may need minor surgery to affix small pins or screws in the bone to ensure proper healing. 


Stress fractures are not the same fractures and are usually treated differently. 

A fracture is a broken bone that requires immobilization with a cast or splint and, sometimes,  surgery. A complete break, or fracture, occurs when too much force is put on a bone. It happens suddenly rather than being an accumulation of repetitive stress on the bone. 

Contact San Diego Sports Medicine & Orthopaedic Center Inc. for all of your orthopedic needs. 

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