A fracture is a broken bone and the bone might be completely or partially fractured depending on the cause most frequent of which include accidents, falls or sports injuries. Fracture can be of many types and one of them is hairline fracture.
Tiny cracks on the bone that develop on the foot or lower leg (less commonly on the upper limb) are called hairline or stress fractures. This happens mostly due to overuse or repetitive jumping/running actions performed in sports events which is in direct contrast to larger bone fractures that occur due to conditions such as a fall or an accident. Hairline fracture is common in those individuals who are seriously into physical activity and who do repetitive movements that can put a strain on a bone or a group of bones. While they are hard to find out initially, the pain starts slowly but develops over time into an intense one.
Bones are rigid but do have a certain degree of elasticity beyond which they break (just like our ruler scales). They can withstand some of the impacts that activities such as walking, jumping or running have on the bone. But over time the impact can result in cracks in the bone called as hairline fracture. A classic example is a long-distance run that can strain the lower leg, foot and ankle in course of time which in sometime can develop into hairline fracture.
Sports such as basketball, tennis, ballet, football or rugby, soccer, hockey, ballet and field/track sports are significant risk factors for a hairline fracture. Even if the person is performing the same activity if the duration, frequency or intensity of the activity changes it can pave way for a hairline fracture. One must also remember that these injuries can occur irrespective of the physical activity performed. Factors that increase the risk of a hairline fracture include:
While a severe fracture sends a seeping pain throughout the body, hairline fracture symptoms are different. The pain here intensifies as a person engages in regular activities that strains the injured bone affecting a person’s mobility. Other common symptoms include swelling, bruising and tenderness.
Diagnosis & Treatment
The physician does a physical examination looking out for the person’s reaction when he/she applies pressure on the affected area. Further confirmation is done with the help of an MRI or X-ray. While a hairline fracture is a minor complication leaving it untreated can lead to a non-union fracture.
Most hairline fractures heal by themselves when the person doesn’t apply strain over the affected area and refrains from using it for any activity. For up to 48 hours the patient is suggested to elevate the affected area and treat it with ice whenever possible. Once pain starts decreasing in a course of a week or two it is suggested to reintroduce weight-bearing activities. Never involve in any sports activities during the recovery process which takes anywhere between 6 and 8 weeks. The doctor might suggest using a protective footwear, splint or crutches to minimize the strain applied on the fractured bone during movement. In extremely rare cases, a surgery might be suggested.
Hairline fracture is impossible to prevent in those engaging in frequent sports activities or suffering from conditions such as osteoporosis. Generally, the risk of hairline fracture can be reduced by:
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