Stress fractures of the foot - current evidence on management

Author: Thumri Paavana1, R Rammohan2, Kartik Hariharan2
1 The Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt Orthopaedic Hospital, Oswestry, United Kingdom.
2 The Grange University Hospital, Cwmbran, United Kingdom.
Conference/Journal: J Clin Orthop Trauma
Date published: 2024 Feb 22
Other: Volume ID: 50 , Pages: 102381 , Special Notes: doi: 10.1016/j.jcot.2024.102381. , Word Count: 377

Stress fractures are a consequence of repeated submaximal loads with inadequate time for recovery and biologic repair or remodelling. The foot and ankle complex (FAC) represents a common site for development of stress fractures. Whilst the overall incidence of stress fractures is low, they are prevalent in athletes and military personnel causing significant time away from sports or work. Within these populations, certain stress fractures directly correlate to specific activities. Factors that commonly influence these fractures include an acute increase in new repetitive physical activity combined with muscle fatigue, training errors or improper athletic techniques, which challenge the regenerative and remodelling capacity of bone. Depending on the site that is subject to repetitive loading, various biomechanical factors can result in abnormal concentration of forces to specific areas of the FAC resulting in stress fracture. Decreased bone marrow density (BMD) is a major biologic cause for developing stress fractures. The female athlete triad comprising eating disorder, amenorrhea and osteoporosis in competitive athletes also predisposes to stress fractures. Vitamin D deficiency is also postulated to be the cause of these fractures and may contribute to poor healing. Clinical presentation is usually with vague pain of insidious onset which worsens with activity and improves with rest. Diffuse tenderness over the affected bone is common with only a minority having any visible swelling. Plain radiographs are the first line of investigation but rarely reveal an obvious fracture. MRI scans aid in diagnosis and CT scans help in treatment and characterisation of the fracture and monitor healing. Management relates to the site of injury, which stratifies them into high or low-risk. Stress fractures of the calcaneus, cuboid and cuneiforms are classed as low-risk fractures as they usually heal with simple activity modification or short duration of non-weight bearing. Stress fractures of the navicular, talus and hallucal sesamoids are classed as high-risk fractures due to higher rates of non-union and prolonged recovery time. Metatarsal fractures can be considered high or low-risk depending on location. These warrant aggressive management, often requiring surgical intervention. Adjuncts such as vitamin D supplements, external shockwave therapy, low-intensity pulsed ultrasound therapy have been used with varying success but there remains little supportive evidence of superiority in the available literature.

PMID: 38435398 PMCID: PMC10904895 (available on 2025-02-22) DOI: 10.1016/j.jcot.2024.102381