Risk Factors for Stress Fracture


A stress fracture is a hairline crack in a bone that is often caused by repetitive tension and overuse. It commonly occurs among athletes who participate in a rigorous and high-impact training.

The nature of stress fractures

When your muscles are subjected to wear and tear, their ability to absorb impact decreases. Over time, the muscles fail to protect the structures underneath and transfer the impact to your bone, causing it to form microscopic tears.

Stress fractures commonly affect the long bones of the lower leg and the small bones of the foot. It commonly takes 6-8 weeks to heal completely and patients are usually advised to avoid putting weight on the injured extremity to prevent the fracture from getting worse. Since the recovery time takes several weeks, it’s best to use more convenient alternatives to crutches such as a knee scooter to allow the patient some degree of freedom and independence.

While 5-30% of stress fracture cases affect athletes and military recruits, you should still be wary of the following risk factors and instances that can lead to this injury:

Your profession is physically taxing.

If you’re a professional athlete, a police officer, a military officer, or a manual laborer, the nature of your job is already a risk factor for a stress fracture injury. Athletes, police officers, and military personnel have to participate in regular training sessions to keep their body in shape.

Manual laborers, on the other hand, have to operate heavy equipment and accomplish physically demanding tasks that render them at risk of injuries. Once you feel some degree of pain and soreness, it is important to rest your body and allow it to recover. Taking calcium and vitamin D supplements also help to ensure bone health.

You are a woman.

Research has shown that women are more prone to develop a stress fracture than men. This is because women have a different bone anatomy, lower bone mineral density, and lesser muscle mass than men. However, if you’re a physically active woman, your chances of developing stress fractures may be reduced.

Aside from the difference in physique, women also have a lower aerobic capacity. A condition called the ‘female athlete triad’ can likewise increase a female athlete’s risk of microtrauma to the tissues. This occurs when a combination of an extreme diet and a rigorous training schedule lead to eating disorders, menstrual problems, and an early-onset osteoporosis in female athletes.

Before going on a strict diet plan, consult your doctor and dietician first in order to make sure that you will not be depriving your body of the nutrients it needs to function well.

You have a dark skin tone.

Ethnicity can also be a risk factor for stress fractures. African-Americans, Southern Asians, and Africans have darker complexions and a natural skin protection against the sun. For this reason, they require 3 to 5 times of sun exposure to obtain the same amount of vitamin D as a person with a whiter complexion. Take note that vitamin D facilitates calcium absorption and helps to maintain bone health.

You have foot deformities.

Foot deformities such as flat arches (pes planus) and high arches (pes cavus) can predispose you to a stress fracture because these conditions compromise the ability of your foot arch to absorb impact from the ground.

In these type of foot arches, the tension and stress generated when your foot makes contact with the ground are not evenly distributed to the rest of your foot. As such, the balls of your foot and your heels receive the most impact especially if you have a high foot arch. Constant stress to these parts can lead to stress fractures.

To prevent injuries, always keep your health in check and get enough rest because if you don’t, you’re risking yourself not only to stress fractures but to other health conditions as well.

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