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Specialist Advice — 13 minutes

Stress fracture of the foot: A common injury for runners

Dr Roxanne Labranche

Although running is very beneficial to cardiovascular health, it does carry some risk of injury. One of the most serious running injuries is the stress fracture of the foot (also called a fatigue fracture). This injury is caused by repeated stress on the bones. During a run, muscles and tendons absorb shock and cushion the bones of the feet, heels and shins, among others. When the repetitive load exceeds the capacity of the muscles and tendons, the bones begin to absorb the shock, causing small fractures.[1]

How to tell if you have a stress fracture

Here are some signs that may indicate you have a foot fracture.

You feel pain in the following situations:

  • You put weight on your foot (the more you walk or run on a fractured foot, the more pain you will feel).
  • You press on a bone in your foot.
  • You jump and feel pain when you land, suggesting a possible stress fracture.

Swelling on top of the foot is also a sign of a stress fracture.[2]

To determine with certainty whether you have a stress fracture of the foot, you should get an X-ray or a bone scan. For example, an X-ray may show an inflammatory reaction in the bone indicating a small fracture or even an outright fracture line. If the X-ray is normal, further tests to detect a small, hidden fracture can be done, such as a computed tomography (or CT scan), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or a bone scan.[3]

How to treat a stress fracture

A stress fracture is a serious injury. Therefore, you should not run if you have one. In fact, it is recommended that you stop running for six to twelve weeks.

Rest is your best treatment. You need to reduce the load on your foot. To do so, you could use crutches, a support boot and sometimes a cast. To maintain your cardiovascular endurance while resting, choose aerobic exercises that do not apply weight on the foot, such as swimming.[4]

How to prevent stress fractures

Stress fractures are aptly named, as they are linked to the fatigue of your muscles and tendons. When muscles and tendons are no longer able to do their job, the shocks from your steps are then absorbed by your bones.

This fatigue can occur in runners who train too hard. Bones are similar to muscles in that they need time to rest and repair themselves after training. Any increase in the duration, intensity or frequency of running should be done gradually to avoid such a bone injury.

There are also other factors responsible for stress fractures, such as ill-fitting shoes. Runners need to choose a shoe that is adapted to their needs and morphology. It should be neutral and the amount of cushioning required will depend on how and where you run. Finally, osteoporosis can promote stress fractures. Concerned individuals should consult their doctor.[5]

Start off on the right foot

Running is a sport that has many health benefits. However, it does have its share of injuries, with stress fractures of the foot being one of the most serious.

Increasing the duration, intensity and frequency of your runs gradually is essential to avoid injuries and fully enjoy the pleasures of running without having to take a break. A personalized routine based on your health and goals is recommended.

For professional support, we’re here.

We provide services that can help your doctor diagnose disorders musculoskeletal disorders and determine the right treatment.

Do you have a medical prescription for one of these exams? Book an appointment online or contact Biron Health Group’s customer service at 1 833 590-2714.

  1. Ashley Mateo, “Quick Fixes for the 15 Most Common Running Injuries,” Runner’s World, April 27, 2021. (source consulted May 12, 2021)
  2. Jordan D. Metzl, “Everything You Need to Know If You Suspect a Stress Fracture in Your Foot,”* Runner’s World*, March 1, 2021. (source consulted May 12, 2021)
  3. Paul L. Liebert, “Stress Fractures of the Foot,”* Merck Manual*, February 2020 (source consulted May 12, 2021)
  4. Ibid.
  5. Idem
Dr Roxanne Labranche
Holding a doctorate in medicine and a residency in radiology from the Université de Montréal, Dr. Roxane Labranche joined the Imagix and Medvue network of radiology clinics in 2019. Since then, she has developed and implemented the platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injection treatment program for musculoskeletal pathologies at Medvue. She currently holds the position of medical director at the Medvue clinic in Boisbriand.