How to identify, treat and prevent a metatarsal stress fracture while running
Stress fractures occur as tiny breaks in bones. They are most commonly found in shins and sometimes hips, but feet are not immune. A metatarsal stress fracture can occur in the metatarsal bones – the long thin bones in the feet. Connecting the ankle to the toes, the metatarsals are surprisingly vulnerable to stress fracture. Here are the ways to identify, treat and prevent metatarsal stress fractures while running.
How to identify a metatarsal stress fracture
You may notice a pain that develops in the broad part of your foot while running. Initially it may fade after you stop running, but eventually it will develop into a persistent pain that can make it uncomfortable to walk. Watch out for tenderness to the touch and any swelling. If you think you have any of these symptoms see a medical professional promptly, as a metatarsal stress fracture has the potential to become a complete fracture (a completely broken bone).
What causes a metatarsal stress fracture?
Like many common running injuries, a metatarsal stress fracture is often caused by increasing your running load too quickly. If you cover too many miles or try significant speed increases without proper build up, the muscles surrounding the bones are unprepared to absorb the extra shock, which leaves the bones vulnerable to impact.
Additionally, inherent bone weaknesses caused by arthritis or osteoporosis, or a poor gait can also contribute to stress fractures in the lower body.
Treating metatarsal stress fractures
There is little to be done to treat a metatarsal stress fracture. After seeking a diagnosis from a doctor (an x-ray will only show significant breaks – an MRI may be required to see smaller ones), there isn’t much to do but rest. You may find yourself in a foot-supporting cast to reduce pressure on the bones. In any case, your training plan will be on the shelf for 4-12 weeks, depending on the severity of the injury.
Preventing metatarsal stress fractures
- Replace your running shoes every 500 miles maximum, or rotate two pairs
- Use cross-training to break up your training schedule
- Increase mileage slowly, no more than 10% each week
- Have your gait and stride assessed by a professional
- Warm up and cool down adequately around training sessions
- Occasionally reduce weekly mileage to give your feet a rest.
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Whilst Enertor has over 18 years Orthotics experience, our blog content is provided for informational purposes only and it is not a substitute for your own doctor’s medical advice. Enertor advises anyone with an injury to seek their own medical advice – and do not make any health or medical related decisions based solely on information found on this site.
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