Simply, a metatarsal stress fracture is a subtle, incomplete fracture of one or more of the metatarsals, the five long bones in the middle of the foot that connect the bones near the heel to the bones in the toes. Stress fractures are a common foot disorder, and it’s important to have them diagnose and treated right away to avoid developing more problems.
Causes of Metatarsal Stress Fractures
Stress fractures in the feet are usually caused by overuse (as opposed to a direct impact), but there are other factors that contribute to this kind of injury such as sports activity, increased stress due to being overweight, or weakened bones due to osteoporosis.
When you think about your feet being responsible for bearing the load of your entire body, it’s easy to see how feet are so susceptible to injury. Also, this stress is easily magnified. Poor footwear, walking or running on hard surfaces for long periods of time, or increased weight due to a heavy backpack, for example, are all ways that feet can experience even more stress.
In fact, all of the above examples are traditionally experienced by soldiers, which is why metatarsal stress fractures are commonly known as “march fractures.” However, soldiers are not the only ones to be affected by stress fractures. Even people who put stress on their feet during exercise or those who work physical jobs are at risk for developing stress fractures.
Symptoms of a Metatarsal Stress Fracture
Pain and swelling in the ball of the foot—particularly during the push-off phase of walking—is the main symptom of a metatarsal stress fracture. Pressing on the bones around this area of the foot will reproduce or intensify the pain. A podiatrist may do this during your appointment to properly diagnose the problem, then recommend a treatment plan that’s right for you.
Treatment for a Metatarsal Stress Fracture
The first step in treatment is to reduce the swelling. This can be done with rest, elevation, and the application of ice and/or a compression bandage. A skilled podiatrist can help you determine your care plan and make your treatment work as smoothly as possible. During the 4-8 week healing period, a wooden-soled shoe or a short walking cast can be used in order to keep from directly pushing off of the ball of the foot while walking.
After the fracture has healed, it’s important to pay special attention to the future stress put on the area, which may include using a well-padded insole. Using these devices can help reduce the chance of a stress fracture from developing again. If your stress fracture was caused by excess weight or poor footwear, it is important to recognize this risk factor and take steps to correct it, such as starting a weight loss program or using better shoes that fit your stride.
If you think you may have developed a metatarsal stress fracture or if you have any questions regarding this or other common foot and ankle problems, contact Missouri Foot and Ankle at 314-991-3668. We have three convenient St. Louis area locations to suit your needs and your schedule.