Ignoring a Hairline Fracture May Lead to a More Serious Fracture (and More Pain!)

Whether you’re a serious athlete or simply starting a new exercise regimen, the repetitive pressure of running and jumping can increase your risk of a hairline fracture. Fractures can also happen due to sports-related accidents. While hairline fractures are small, it’s still critical to get medical treatment to avoid complications -- such as a more severe fracture.

What is a hairline fracture?

Hairline fractures — also called stress fractures — are thin cracks in your bone. They develop most frequently in feet and ankles. Repetitive force and overuse are the most common causes of hairline fractures.

For example, when you walk, every time your feet strike the ground as you’re putting in the miles, they absorb up to three times your body weight in impact. Running increases this force to 5-12 times your body weight. Over time, this extra pressure can lead to tiny cracks in the small, delicate bones of your feet and ankles.

How to tell if you have a hairline fracture

Pain in your feet or ankles could indicate a hairline fracture. You might have mild-to-moderate pain throughout your foot or ankle or “pinpoint” pain at the location of your fracture. Pain due to a hairline fracture usually subsides with rest but flares up with activity.

Your foot or ankle might also feel weak or unstable, or you may develop swelling on the top of your foot or in your ankle. You may notice some bruising, or your foot may become tender to touch.

If you ignore these symptoms or don’t realize that a fracture is causing your pain, you may try to train through your discomfort or not allow enough time for your bone to heal correctly.

Do I need to see a doctor about a hairline fracture?

Yes, if you notice painful symptoms that could be due to a hairline fracture, you should make an appointment with our team at North Jersey Orthopaedic & Sports Medicine Institute for diagnosis and treatment. If you ignore a hairline fracture, you put yourself at risk for complications, including a more severe break.

Hairline fractures weaken your bone, and if you continue to run or train on the injury, the continued force can make the crack grow and eventually lead to a complete break. Even if your fracture doesn’t become worse, without medical treatment, you run the risk of your bone not healing correctly, which could lead to deformities that make it hard to find shoes that fit correctly.

As you try to find a way to walk without pain, a hairline fracture could change your gait — which is the way your foot moves when you walk or run — and lead to recurring injuries and pain. Furthermore, injuries like hairline fractures can increase your risk of developing arthritis later in life.

Treatments for hairline fractures

Treatment for a hairline fracture depends on the extent of your injury. Your doctor uses imaging, such as X-rays or MRIs, to study your injury and identify the best course of treatment. Small fractures are often treated with the RICE method, and your doctor may recommend using crutches to keep weight off your foot while your bone heals.

If your injury is more severe, you may need to wear a cast. In rare cases, or if your hairline fracture has become worse, your doctor may need to set the bone surgically to ensure it heals correctly.

Can I prevent hairline fractures?

You can take steps to reduce your risk of a hairline fracture. First, make sure to eat a balanced diet that includes enough calcium and vitamin D to keep your bones strong and healthy.

Also, make sure to use the correct gear for your sport and to replace your shoes when they get worn out. Old running shoes aren’t as supportive or cushioned as they should be, which can increase your risk of injuries like hairline fractures.

If you’re getting back to exercise after an injury or starting a new exercise regimen, consult with your doctor and start slowly. Adding weight or resistance training and other cross-training activities can also develop strength and flexibility in the muscles that support your feet, ankles, and other joints to reduce your risk of injury.

Call North Jersey Orthopaedic & Sports Medicine Institute or schedule an appointment online for expert diagnosis of hairline fractures and other sports and orthopedic injuries.

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