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One good way to prevent a stress fracture is to avoid overworking muscles and bones. Instead of routinely playing the same sport or doing the same workout, doctors recommend alternating your activities to allow areas of the body to rest. You'll also avoid boredom and have more fun!

A stress fracture is a hairline break in a bone caused by extreme pressure or overuse. Although bone heals itself from daily wear-and-tear, excessive stress can lead to breakdown.

Stress fractures are caused by any activity that requires repeated and prolonged use of a part of the body. They typically develop in the leg and the foot, less commonly in the arms, ribs, pelvis and back. Sports are often associated with stress fractures. Other contributing factors include:

  • Accelerating a workout program too rapidly
  • Poor body mechanics
  • Improper movement techniques
  • Muscle weakness
  • Lack of flexibility
  • Joint disease such as arthritis
  • Structural imbalances such as leg length difference

Symptoms
Stress fractures cause pain, swelling and bruising.

Diagnosis
Your doctor will physically examine the area and will discuss your symptoms. X-rays will be taken to identify the break. Because stress fractures do not always show up on X-rays, other tests may be needed. A bone scan can provide a more accurate picture because it more readily detects small cracks. A CT (computed tomography) scan may help rule out other conditions by offering a more in-depth view. And an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) can show changes in the soft tissues around a fracture.

Treatment
The primary treatment is rest and relative immobility. Like other breaks, stress fractures should be treated with rest, ice compression and elevation - the so-called "RICE" formula. Depending on the location of the break, your doctor may have you wear a cast or splint to stop the bone from moving during healing. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories will help reduce pain and swelling.

Recovery
Recovery depends on several factors like age, overall health and the location of the injury. Full recovery can take from three to four months.

Prevention
In addition to varying your workout or sports, remember these tips:

  • Keep bones strong and healthy with proper nutrition. Make sure you're getting enough calcium in your diet!
  • Maintain good posture and use proper body mechanics during all daily activities.
  • Make sure you have the right shoes and equipment for the activity or sport you're pursuing.