It could be a favorite old teapot, your grandmother’s cake platter, or a china doll you found at the flea market showing its age. Underneath the surface glazing you see a network of fine cracks and lines that indicate its integrity has been compromised. The same thing can happen to the bones in your feet. Overuse, weakening bone tissue, or traumatic stress can cause tiny cracks to appear on the surface of your bones. You can’t see these stress fractures, but you surely can feel them as they worsen.
Feet of Clay
Your bones are constantly repairing themselves. New cells push out toward the surface and old cells are absorbed. This only happens when at rest, though. If you are constantly active without giving tissues time to renew themselves, the stress will weaken your bones and cause small cracks to occur. Just as china will break under pressure, so will the hard tissues of your skeleton. This usually happens in your feet and lower limbs, because they bear all of your weight every day. The bones most often affected are your fibula (smaller of the long bones in your calf), calcaneus (heel bone), navicular (top of your midfoot), and metatarsals (long bones in your instep area).
Throwing Your Weight Around
Stress fractures are an overuse injury common in people who run and jump a lot, such as gymnasts, dancers, or those who play sports like soccer, basketball, tennis, and track. These activities all involve repetitive stress on your tissues. If you tap-tap-tap on a china cup, eventually it will start to crack and splinter. One extra hard tap, and it will break completely. When you pound-pound-pound on your foot bones, one hard landing from a jump or a missed step can be the final straw.
Symptoms include a gradual onset of pain that worsens when you use your feet and lessens when you are at rest. As the condition progresses, the pain stays longer and your feet can be sore even when not in use. You may notice that the top of your foot, heel area, or the front of your ankle becomes swollen and is tender at a certain spot. This may or may not be accompanied by bruising.
Fixing the Cracks
The only way to heal stress fractures is to rest and let new bone tissue grow to repair the cracks. That means taking a break from sports. It may also mean taking weight off the area with a cushioned walking boot, a brace or cast, or crutches or knee walkers. While healing, you can try icing, compression, and elevation to reduce swelling and pain. Once the tissue has healed, be sure to return to your activity gradually. Much good healing work has been undone by doing too much, too soon, before you take time to strengthen and condition your muscles and tendons.
Strengthening Your Ceramics
A potter knows how important it is to work the clay, apply the right compression, and fire it properly to make it strong and solid. You need to encourage your bones to form a solid foundation for your body, too. Make sure you are eating calcium-rich food, getting enough weight-bearing exercise to encourage new cell growth, and not exerting more pressure on it than it can bear. Working to build strong muscles will help absorb the shock of your activities, whereas weak ones allow the force to be transmitted directly to the skeleton.
You can also help prevent damage to your foot structure by wearing supportive shoes, cross-training with non-weight bearing activities, and trying any new activity—or upping your intensity, length, or distance—gradually, instead of suddenly increasing the stress on your tissues.
Getting Expert Help
Podiatrist Iain Palmer of the Palmer Foot Clinic has lots of experience treating stress fractures and other sports injuries. We can give you training hints and footwear advice along with expert treatment of your foot ailments. Don’t hesitate to give us a call in Winnipeg at (204) 697-0649 at the first sign of problems.