Stress fractures are tiny breaks in a bone that develop gradually. They occur most often in the lower leg or foot as a result of high-impact activities, such as running, basketball, or tennis. When you run, for example, the bones and muscles in the leg and foot absorb the entire weight of your body. If an activity puts more force on the legs and feet than the bones can absorb, small cracks may form on the surface of the bone.
Often, stress fractures are preventable. You can protect your bones by making lifestyle changes and avoiding habits that may put you at risk for a fracture.
While it may be tempting to wear your favorite worn-in sneakers for your workout, they might not provide the best support for your bones. Wearing supportive shoes can limit the amount of stress on foot and leg bones, possibly preventing a fracture.
Specialists at NYU Langone’s Running Performance Programs at the Sports Performance Center can evaluate the strength, flexibility, and shape of your foot and ankle and analyze the way your body moves while you run. Our experts can determine which part of your foot is absorbing the most stress during physical activity and can recommend a shoe that may help you avoid injury and improve your performance.
Footwear should be specific to each person’s feet—for example, flat feet often require strong arch support—and to each activity. Basketball, which involves frequent and sudden stops and pivots, puts a different kind of stress on the bones than long-distance running.
Doctors at NYU Langone can help you choose the right type of shoe for your foot shape and athletic activities. If you have trouble finding a comfortable and supportive shoe, our experts may recommend a shoe insert, or orthotic, to help distribute the weight of your body more evenly across the bones and muscles of your leg and foot. This reduces stress on your bones and helps to prevent a stress fracture.
Our podiatrists and physical therapists at NYU Langone Orthopedic Center can determine the right type of shoe insert for your foot.
If you plan to increase the intensity or duration of a high-impact activity, doctors recommend building up your endurance gradually so your bones have time to adapt. Stress fractures often develop in people who jump into a new routine too quickly and in experienced runners who train for a long-distance race by suddenly adding a lot of extra miles to their regular workout.
Even if you are not changing your routine, it’s important to consider where you are working out. Exercising on concrete or hardwood surfaces places more stress on bones than working out on grass, dirt, or other surfaces.
If you are concerned about a stress fracture, there are low-impact activities that provide a rigorous cardiovascular workout without putting excessive stress on bones. These include swimming, cycling, rowing, and yoga. You can tone muscles and strengthen bones by adding resistance exercises, such as moderate weight-lifting, and stretching to your routine. Strong and flexible muscles can absorb more stress, thereby protecting bones.
Experts at NYU Langone’s Running Performance Program at the Sports Performance Center can customize a workout for you, ensuring that you maintain a safe routine as you build endurance.
The foods you eat play a significant role in the health of your bones. To keep bones strong, nutritionists at NYU Langone Orthopedic Center suggest consuming foods rich in calcium and vitamin D, such as yogurt, leafy greens, salmon, and eggs. Dietary supplements can also ensure you’re getting the recommended daily amount of these nutrients.
Losing weight can reduce the amount of stress on bones during exercise. Nutritionists and counselors at NYU Langone’s Weight Management Program can help you come up with a plan to reduce calorie intake, exercise regularly, and make other healthy choices.
In addition to being harmful to your lungs, the nicotine and other toxins in cigarettes can slow a bone’s rate of healing after injury. A smoker who has a tiny amount of weakness in a bone has a greater chance of progressing to a stress fracture than a nonsmoker.
Our doctors understand how difficult it can be to quit smoking. Our Tobacco Cessation Programs can offer the support you need.
Learn more about our research and professional education opportunities.