Metatarsal Stress Fractures: What Every Runner Should Know

The metatarsal bones are the bones that run along the top of your foot, connecting your ankle to your toes. The act of running puts a lot of stress on these bones, and as a result, some runners end up with stress fractures of the metatarsal bones: fractures that occur as a result of repeated strain. As a runner, knowing a bit about the symptoms of metatarsal stress fractures, as well as how they can be prevented and treated, will come in handy.

Symptoms of a Metatarsal Stress Fracture

The pain associated with a stress fracture often begins before the stress fracture actually occurs. There may be swelling, soreness and redness in the top of the foot as the tendons and ligaments in this area become irritated due to overuse. If you continue to run through this pain, a stress fracture may result -- and at that point the pain will become more localized to a specific area on the top of your foot. The area may or may not look bruised, and it will appear swollen, especially after you walk or run on the foot.

Treating Stress Fractures

If you suspect you may have a stress fracture, it is important to visit your physician or podiatrist. He or she will take x-rays to confirm that you have a fracture. Once you are diagnosed, treatment will officially begin. This process will include:

  • Taking several weeks or months completely off from running in order to let the bone heal. Your podiatrist may recommend you cycle or aqua jog to stay in shape.
  • Icing the foot several times per day to keep swelling down.
  • Taking over-the-counter pain relievers to manage discomfort and swelling.
  • If the stress fracture is severe, wearing an immobilization boot for several weeks to prevent excess strain on the bone when walking.

Preventing Stress Fractures

It's a lot easier to prevent stress fractures than to treat them. If you start to experience any soreness in the top of your foot, take a few days off from running rather than pushing through. At this point, the injury is probably just some tendonitis and will correct itself with rest. Make sure you increase your mileage slowly by no more than 10% per week so that your bones have time to adjust to the increased workload. Finally, make sure you are running in shoes that fit well, and don't lace them too tightly. Tight laces put excess pressure on the top of your foot and can increase your risk of stress fractures.

To learn more about metatarsal stress fractures, speak with a podiatrist, such as Dr. Lisa M. Schoene.