What is a Stress Fracture?


One of the most common injuries in sport is a stress fracture. Stress fractures are tiny cracks in a bone. Stress fractures are caused by the repetitive application of force through bone that isn’t strong enough. Essentially, the bone is weaker than is required for the activity demands or exercise intensity.

The most common stress fractures occur in runners, but stress fracture can occur due to the demands of your sport. eg lumbar spine stress fractures in gymnasts and cricket bowlers. Common running stress fractures include: foot (navicular, metatarsal), tibia (shin splints).

Stress fractures also can arise from normal use of a bone that’s been weakened by a condition such as osteoporosis.

Where do Stress Fractures occur?

Most stress fractures occur in the weight-bearing bones of the lower leg and the foot. More than 50 percent of all stress fractures occur in the lower leg. Common sites include:

  • Metatarsal (Foot)
  • Navicular (Mid-Foot)
  • Tibia (Shin)
  • Neck of Femur (Hip)
  • Pars intraarticularis (Lower Back – Spondylolysis or Spondylolisthesis)

How are Stress Fractures Treated?

The most important treatment is rest. Individuals need to rest from the activity that caused the stress fracture, and engage in a pain-free activity during the six to eight weeks it takes most stress fractures to heal. If the activity that caused the stress fracture is resumed too quickly, larger, harder-to-heal stress fractures can develop. Re-injury also could lead to chronic problems where the stress fracture might never heal properly. While you are resting from your sport, it is wise to be screened for predisposing factors. A team approach is recommended:

  • Sports Physician or Doctor to address bone density, hormonal issues, calcium, Vitamin D etc
  • Physiotherapist for whole lower limb and core muscle and joint function
  • Orthopaedic Surgeon for surgical intervention if required.
  • Sports Dietitian to ensure adequate nutrition.
  • Podiatrist for foot biomechanics assessment
  • Psychologist to assist with return to sport issues