Metatarsal Stress Fracture: Symptoms, Causes & Aftercare

Metatarsal Stress Fracture: Symptoms, Causes & Aftercare

Nov 29 , 2021


Tags - Metatarsal Stress Fracture

Metatarsal stress fractures are tiny cracks in the bone caused by overuse and repetitive force, which is different from an acute fracture that is caused by sudden and traumatic injuries.

Hence, these fractures are more commonly seen in athletes, particularly in long distance runners.

Just to be clear, the foot is made up of several small bones, and the bones running to the toes are called metatarsals; there are 5 in each foot.

In terms of the fracture, it’s more common to appear in the second and third metatarsals, because these are the thinnest and longest out of all the metatarsal bones.

That said, let’s take a closer look at the symptoms and causes of metatarsal stress fractures as well as proper aftercare.

Symptoms of a Metatarsal Stress Fracture

Typically, metatarsal stress fractures will cause pain at the top of the foot.

And, the affected area can become red and swollen, as well as worsen pain during exercise.

In addition, when squeezing the foot or applying pressure at the top, this can contribute to the pain.

Pain aside, other symptoms can include:

  • Problems with gait
  • Reduced range of movement
  • Issues with balance
  • Stiffness

Unfortunately, if a metatarsal stress fracture is not treated early on, the pain can become very severe.

Plus, there is a risk that fracture can be displaced, where the fractured bone moves away from its normal alignment.

Causes of a Metatarsal Stress Fracture

As metatarsal stress fractures are an overuse injury, they often occur as a result of the increasing type, frequency and intensity of an activity.

Did you know, bones are in a constant state of turnover; a process referred to as bone remodelling.

Essentially, new bone develops and replaces older bones, and if a person’s activity increases, the breakdown of the older bones happens a lot quicker and can outpace your body’s ability to form new bone.

As a result, the bones in the foot become too weak and therefore vulnerable to stress fractures.

However, other causes include:

  • Sports: such as running, basketball, tennis, dance and high impact exercises
  • Foot Posture: a pronated foot results in the first metatarsal bone and the big toe dorsiflexing, which means the second metatarsal takes more pressure
  • Gender: women are more susceptible to metatarsal stress fractures, especially those with abnormal menstrual patterns
  • Bone Insufficiency: underlying conditions that affect bone strength and density, like osteoporosis, makes it more likely to experience a fracture
  • Lack of Nutrients: a lack of vitamin D and calcium weakens bones and makes it more likely to develop a fracture

Aftercare for a Metatarsal Stress Fracture

If you’ve been diagnosed with a metatarsal stress fracture, it’s important to rest your foot properly before returning to the activity or exercise that caused the injury.

To do so, ensure you elevate your foot when you can which will help to decrease swelling and pain.

In severe cases, where even walking is painful, you may be advised to use crutches to help support your body weight when you walk.

In regards to the pain, you can take over-the-counter, anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen or naproxen.

However, if you have any underlying health issues, like high blood pressure, heart disease or kidney disease, you must talk with a healthcare professional before using these medicines.

Lastly, tight footwear or heeled shoes should be avoided, and you may be advised to wear custom orthotics inside your shoes.

However, if these methods do not work, surgery may be an option, especially if the fracture fails to heal.

Then, after surgery you’ll be asked to follow a physiotherapy programme, which can include: hydrotherapy and other cross training exercises, for example swimming.

Concluding Thoughts

Prevention is the best measure to avoid getting a fracture in the first place.

And so, if you feel pain during exercise or a particular activity, it’s a good idea to take a break until you’re pain-free.

And, if there is persistent pain, ensure you visit your doctor as soon as possible.

In addition, you should wear the correct shoes for the activity you’re doing; i.e. wear running shoes when running, rather than pumps - it’s advised to change your running shoes every 300 miles.

Lastly, ensure you properly warm up and cool down before and after exercises, as well as practicing strength exercises to prevent the loss of bone density that comes with ageing; the weaker your bones are, the longer stress fractures will take to heal.

Want to know more? Please get in touch today.

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