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What Is a Stress Fracture?

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If stress fractures truly were the result of stress--that emotional stress that drains us all from time to time--I would probably have a lot of injured bones! However, a stress fracture has less to do with your mental state of health and nearly everything to do with how much physical stress in terms of load and weight you might put on your body, especially through certain athletic endeavors.

Basically, a stress fracture is a small crack in the bone. Stress fractures usually come about due to overuse, commonly seen in high-impact activities such as distance running or basketball. Most stress fractures are sustained in the weight-bearing bones of the lower leg and of the foot. Individuals who engage in tennis, running, gymnastics, dance, and basketball are at an increased risk for sustaining a stress fracture. When you repeatedly strike your foot against a hard ground surface, this can create problems.

Described as an overuse injury, a stress fracture can happen when your muscles become overtired and they can no longer work to reduce the shock of repeated impacts. As such, the muscles will transfer the stress to the bones, creating small cracks or fractures.

Stress fractures are most commonly seen in the second and third metatarsals in the foot. They are also commonly found in the heel, the outer bone of the lower leg, and in the bone on the top of the midfoot.

How frequently you exercise and engage in high-impact activities, how long you exercise, and the level of exertion you employ all can contribute to the presentation of a stress fracture. Believe it or not, even those who do not exercise can suffer from a stress fracture. This is referred to as bone insufficiency, usually seen in those with osteoporosis or some other disease that has weakened the bones.

Those who are new to exercise or who have not been conditioning for a period of time may attempt to jump right into exercise without gradually preparing their bodies for the impact. As such, because the level of conditioning is lower, the muscles become fatigued faster and this can lead to a stress fracture of the ankle or the foot.

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.