A hairline fracture, also known as a stress fracture, is very small minute cracks in the bone. It is common in athletes who do repetitive running and jumping activities such as soccer and basketball. This fracture is a typically a fatigue-induced fracture that is developed by constant strain and excessive training. It is often seen in weight-bearing bones like bones of the foot and lower leg as these bones handle a lot of stress during physical activities.
Signs and Symptoms
A hairline fracture is often discovered after the rapid increase in weight-bearing activity. Its common symptoms are highlighted below:
- Tenderness to touch at the place of the fracture
- Pain, which subsides with rest
- Swelling – such as the of the ankle or on the top of the foot
Hairline Fracture Causes
When normally sedentary people suddenly take up intense exercise, they can fall victim to a hairline fracture as their bones are not used to the activity. When occurring in athletes, a hairline fracture develops when they undertake high impact training, like jumping and running activities. Overtime, the bone breaks down causing small cracks after repetitive trauma.
Who Is At Risk?
Those who are involved in high impact sports including soccer, basketball, soccer, football, hockey, tennis, field sports, and ballet are prone to developing a stress fracture. More common in the lower body of athletes, hairline fractures can occur at any age. Outside of athletes, those highlighted below are more susceptible to this type of fracture.
- Those that do not intake a balanced diet. Lack of nutrition in food will result in weaker bones that are more likely to deteriorate faster.
- Women, especially those with irregular menstrual cycles.
- Those with feet issues such as rigid arches, high arches, and flat feet or those that normally wear low-quality footwear.
When it comes to the diagnosis of a hairline fracture, it is usually not clear in x-rays. But, the fracture may become apparent a few weeks after the injury occurs. The doctor will inspect the painful area and will apply a gentle pressure to see whether it causes pain or not.
- CT scan can be helpful and effective for early diagnosis.
- MRI is considered to be the best test for determining stress fracture. This test will give the images of the bones by using radio waves and magnets.
- The 3-phase bone scan can also be done for discovering this fracture.
Treatment of Hairline Fractures
The majority of stress fractures will heal by themselves. The only condition is that the patient has to refrain from partaking in high impact sports or those activities that put a strain on the affected area. For the first twenty-four to forty-eight hours, the patient can apply ice on the affected area. Once the swelling decreases, the pain will become less severe over the first fourteen days. A complete recovery often takes between two to three months. In few cases, a doctor can ask the patient to wear a splint or protective footwear. This will help in minimizing the strain that can be placed on the fractured bone during movement.
One can follow these steps to reduce the occurrence of hairline fractures:
- Resting between sessions of exercise
- Not ignoring pain associated with exercise
- Ensuring changes to the intensity and duration of activity (keeping it gradual)
- Eating a healthy and balanced diet that contains a good amount of vitamin D and calcium
- Using the finest quality equipment such as shoes or cleats