A stress fracture of the foot is a tiny crack in one of the bones in your foot. It’s most commonly caused by overuse and usually not the result of falls or other accidents. In fact, you might not even realize you have a stress fracture until days after the injury occurs.

Often, stress fractures develop after intense athletic training or competition. They’re more common in the weight-bearing bones of the lower legs and feet.

Although the crack caused by a stress fracture is tiny, it’s important to get treatment for this injury. Ignoring a stress fracture can cause the fracture to become much worse. This, in turn, could lead to a full break of the affected bone.

A stress fracture in the foot most often happens when you rapidly increase your activity level or the amount of time spent on your feet.

Typically, your bones adapt to changes in pressure or activity gradually. This process is called remodeling.

Remodeling causes some bone tissue to be destroyed and rebuilt to accommodate the new activity. For instance, this is part of the change your body undergoes when you begin a new fitness routine.

However, when change happens too rapidly, it can cause bone tissues to be destroyed faster than your body is able to replace them. This can leave your bones very fragile. When your bones are fragile, they are at a higher risk of a stress fracture.

Certain other factors can also increase your risk for a stress fracture, such as:

Stress fractures can be difficult to notice. It might take several days before you feel pain in your foot. The pain often decreases while you’re resting and gets worse when walking.

Symptoms of a stress fracture in the foot can include:

  • a swollen foot
  • a bruised foot
  • a tender foot
  • pain that feels worse when you walk, run, or stand for an extended time
  • pain that eases at night or when you rest

Make an appointment to see a doctor if you have any of these symptoms, especially if it’s difficult to walk on your foot.

Although it might seem like a minor injury, it’s important to get treatment for a stress fracture. Ignoring a stress fracture could cause the break to become worse.

A doctor will go over your symptoms and your medical history. They’ll also examine your foot for bruising, swelling, and tenderness. In most cases, they’ll order imaging tests of your foot.

Unlike standard breaks and fractures, stress fractures are often not visible on an X-ray. Instead of an X-ray, your doctor may order an MRI scan.

MRI scans use radio waves and magnets to create detailed images of the inside of your foot. A stress fracture is usually visible on an MRI. This test can help your doctor distinguish a stress fracture from other injuries.

The treatment plan for a stress fracture depends on the severity of the fracture.

You can treat some stress fractures can with rest and pain medications. More severe stress fractures may require surgery. You and your doctor can discuss which options are most appropriate for you.

Common treatments for stress fractures in the foot include:

  • Rest: A doctor will typically advise you to avoid putting weight on your foot for 6 to 8 weeks while your stress fracture heals. Your doctor may give you a list of safe activities you can do during this time.
  • Ice: Ice can help reduce swelling in your foot and relieve pain.
  • Elevation: Elevating your foot at night and while sitting may minimize swelling and help drain excess fluid.
  • Pain medication: To help manage pain, your doctor may recommend over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). If your pain is more severe, your doctor may write you a prescription for stronger NSAIDs.
  • Casting: Not all stress fractures of the foot require a cast, but some do. Casting can help keep your foot stable while the bone heals.
  • Protective footwear: Protective footwear can reduce stress on your foot when you do need to stand or walk.
  • Surgery: Most stress fractures heal without surgery. However, sometimes surgery is needed to support the bone and ensure proper healing. Typically, this involves placing medical screws or plates into the bone in your foot to hold it together.

It’s not a good idea to walk on a stress fracture. Walking and putting weight on a stress fracture in your foot can worsen the injury and possibly cause the bone to break completely.

Your doctor will let you know when it’s safe to resume your usual activities. If you try to take on too much before your injury is fully healed, you could re-injure yourself. It’s important to follow your doctor’s instructions for proper healing.

As you heal, you’ll be allowed to resume some types of activities. Once you’re able to walk, your doctor may recommend avoiding very long walks or not walking on very hard surfaces for a few more weeks.

In general, it takes about 6 to 8 weeks to heal a stress fracture of the foot. However, severe stress fractures can take much longer.

A stress fracture is a small crack in a bone caused by overuse. A stress fracture in the foot is a common injury among some types of athletes and people who start exercising too quickly after being inactive for a long time.

The bone crack caused by a stress fracture is so small that many people don’t notice it at first. It can take several days to start feeling the pain.

It’s important to get treatment for a stress fracture in the foot. Ignoring the injury can make it worse and could lead to a full break of the fractured bone.

Treatment often includes rest, ice, and medication to manage the pain. Surgery usually isn’t necessary, but it may be needed for severe fractures of the foot.