If your doctor diagnoses a stress fracture, it is crucial to let the bone heal before returning to high-impact activities such as running. Putting stress on a bone with even a small fracture may cause the injury to worsen and lead to chronic pain.
Orthopedic sports medicine specialists at NYU Langone Orthopedic Center often recommend the following treatments to speed healing.
Rest is the most important part of treating a stress fracture. Avoiding the activity that caused the fracture, as well as any other high-impact activities that cause pain, allows the bone to heal.
Though it’s important to avoid high-impact activity, sports medicine doctors and physical therapists at NYU Langone can help you find safe ways to stay active as you recover. Our doctors can provide access to specialized exercise equipment, such as gravity-reducing treadmills, that enable you to continue exercising or training without putting stress on your bones.
Doctors may recommend that you use crutches or a walking boot or brace for a few weeks to reduce or eliminate stress on the injured bone. Our orthopedic specialists can provide you with these devices and ensure that they fit you properly.
If a stress fracture is severe—which can occur if repeated stress is put on the bone after symptoms appear—your doctor may apply a plaster cast to immobilize the bone. Doctors usually recommend that you wear the cast for four to six weeks, but it depends on the extent of the injury, which is evident on imaging tests. A large or recurring stress fracture may take longer to heal.
While a stress fracture is healing, NYU Langone doctors may recommend a technique called electronic bone stimulation. This noninvasive therapy can take place in a doctor’s office or at NYU Langone’s Bone Healing Center, and may help speed healing.
Electronic bone stimulation involves passing a low-voltage electrical current or ultrasound waves through the affected bone. While you recline in a comfortable position, a doctor positions small electrodes—round, flat discs with wires attached—on the skin above the stress fracture. The electrodes send a weak electrical current or low-intensity ultrasound waves through the bone. This painless technique jump-starts the healing process and stimulates bone growth. It also prevents further breakdown of bone at the site of the fracture.
If a stress fracture causes persistent pain or discomfort, your doctor may recommend over-the-counter pain relief medication such as acetaminophen to help you recover comfortably. Your doctor can advise you how to use these medications.
In addition, some people find that applying ice to the injured area three times a day for 15 minutes at a time relieves pain and swelling.
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