There are two main types of foot fractures: Stress fractures and Traumatic fractures (car accidents, sports accidents, etc.). Because traumatic fractures usually involve an accident or impact, they’re easier to discover. Stress fractures may be less evident to the patient because they tend to occur due to moderate or excessive stress over time. With either type, it’s important to see a doctor right away for proper diagnosis and treatment.
At Princeton Orthopaedic Associates, we can diagnose and treat your fractures, as well as recommend ways to prevent further fractures.
Traumatic or accidental foot fractures happen immediately from everything from a car crash to an impact from a heavy weight to a simple misstep. Foot fractures occur when excessive stress is suddenly applied to the bone, cracking or breaking it. The effects are immediate and usually hard to miss.
Symptoms of a traumatic or accidental fracture include pain, swelling, bruising, deformity, inability to put pressure on the foot, and tenderness. The symptoms usually are immediate and will last even with the foot at rest. If you suspect you have a fractured foot, it’s essential to see a doctor right away for diagnosis and treatment.
Because there are so many small bones in the foot, fractures will need imaging for a proper diagnosis. This can include x-rays, an MRI or a CT scan.
Traumatic fractures may require surgery, depending on the severity of the fracture. If one or more bones are displaced, surgeons may have to put pins or plates in place to stabilize the bones and allow them to heal properly. Not treating a fracture can result in deformity, pain or a loss of mobility.
Foot fractures usually take about 4-6 weeks to heal but may take longer depending on the severity of the fracture and which bones are involved, as some bones take longer to heal than others. Foot fractures may require the uses of crutches or a walking boot. Physical therapy may be needed to make sure the patient can use the foot properly again.
A stress fracture occurs over time, when moderate pressure is placed on the foot time and again, such as from running or other strenuous activities. Stress fractures can also occur just from walking or other daily repetitive activities in people who have weakened bones, such as those with osteoporosis.
Stress fractures may be harder to detect initially because the bones aren’t displaced, or moved apart, like with traumatic injuries. The most obvious symptom is pain in the foot, particulary when the activity creating the fracture is carried out. If the pain persists after several days, even after resting, or if the pain returns a few days or weeks later with the same activity, then there is a chance it’s a stress fracture. Some swelling can occur, as well.
Stress fractures most frequently occur in the metatarsals, which are the long bones in the middle of the foot. They also can occur in the navicular, which is a large bone that connects the metatarsals to the ankle bones.
Stress fractures will need to be diagnosed through imaging, such as x-rays or a CT or MRI scan. A physician will be able to diagnose your fracture and, through a series of questions, will be able to determine how you likely received the fracture.
From there they will be able to offer solutions to keep the fracture from happening, from a change in footwear to a change in routine.
Stress fractures rarely require surgery because the bones usually aren’t displaced. Most stress fractures will heal on their own fairly quickly, but a doctor may recommend a special shoe or even a walking boot (brace) to stabilize your foot and enable faster healing.
The doctor may also recommend a regimen of over-the-counter painkillers, such as Tylenol or Ibuprofen. It is also important to refrain from the strenuous activity that caused the fracture for at least six weeks. It’s advised that the patient modify that activity in some way, from not participating to wearing special footwear, to prevent future stress fractures.
The average time to heal is 4-6 weeks. The navicular bone can take much longer. Healing time also depends on whether the patient refrains from activity that could put more stress on the foot.
Patients may be advised to take calcium with vitamin D to strengthen the bones and to crosstrain, so the foot gets a break occasionally from the initial cause of the stress fracture.