When Do I Need Urgent Care for a Stress Fracture?

teen's ankle being bandaged up by doctor

Stress fractures are very small cracks in a bone and are usually the result of overuse. They can occur anywhere on the body where there’s repetitive force or trauma, but they’re most common in the lower extremities (e.g., shin bone, heel or foot). People who participate in sports like running, tennis, gymnastics and basketball are most susceptible to stress fractures because of the repetitive stress related to the foot striking the ground.

Should I go to urgent care for a stress fracture?

A physician should always examine stress fractures. Not only can they help treat your existing symptoms, but they can also help you avoid further complications like a broken bone. If you think you have a stress fracture, stop any physical activities that may be contributing to the injury. Common symptoms of stress fractures include:

  • Pain, swelling or aching in the injured area
  • Pain or tenderness when pressure is applied directly to the injured bone
  • Persistent pain during and after physical activity
  • Persistent pain while at rest or during normal daily activities
  • Inability to put weight on affected leg or foot

If a stress fracture is not treated in its early stage (stress reaction), the pain and swelling can become severe. You are also at risk for complications like having the bone move out of alignment and break.

How are stress fractures diagnosed?

In order to diagnose a stress fracture your doctor may need to perform the following tests:

  • Physical exam
    Your doctor will perform a physical exam of the affected area and ask about your medical history, work, activities and any medications you’re taking. This information will help him or her understand how you may have sustained the injury as well as provide suggestions and recommendations for avoiding a repeat injury.
  • X-rays
    Stress fractures are small in size and may therefore be difficult to see on a typical x-ray. Instead, your doctor may order more sensitive imaging tests that can detect stress reactions like:
    • Bone scan
      During a bone scan, a tracer (a radioactive substance) is injected into your bloodstream, which collects in the bone and settles in areas where it is being repaired. Bone scans can show evidence of stress fracture within a few days of the initial injury.
    • MRI
      A magnetic resonance imaging test is considered the best way to diagnose stress fractures. It uses powerful magnets, radio waves and a computer to make detailed images of your bones, muscles and organs.

How are stress fractures treated?

In addition to the RICE protocol (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) and anti-inflammatory medications, your urgent care physician may recommend crutches to help keep weight off your leg or foot until the pain and swelling subside. Other nonsurgical treatment options for mild to moderate stress fractures include:

  • Modified activities
    Stress fractures typically take between 6-8 weeks to heal. During that time, your doctor may recommend switching to activities that place less stress on your foot and leg. If you are a runner or participate in sports that require running, swimming and cycling may be good alternative activities. It’s important to give your injury time to heal properly. It’s important not to resume any physical activities that involve your injured foot or ankle without your doctor’s recommendation.
  • Protective footwear
    Your doctor may recommend a stiff-soled shoe or a removable fracture brace to help protect the injury and reduce stress on your foot and leg.
  • Casting
    Depending on the location and severity of the stress fracture, your doctor may recommend placing a cast over the affected foot. Stress fractures in the outer side of the foot or in the bones that connect the ankle to the foot take longer to heal. A cast will help keep these more vulnerable bones in the correct position and remove the stress on your foot and leg while it heals.

Severe stress fractures often require surgery to heal properly and may include pins, screws or plates to hold the small bones of the foot and ankle together as they heal. If you or a loved one has sustained a fracture go to your nearest urgent care, stress fractures can worsen and lead to a break in the bone if left untreated. Coastal Urgent Care of Gonzales welcomes walk-in appointments 7 days a week from 9 a.m. – 8 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.