stress fracture

A stress fracture is a common sports injury caused by overuse. When the muscle becomes fatigued and is unable to absorb any more shock, it transfers the excess stress to the bone, causing a tiny crack. This tiny crack is the stress fracture.

What causes stress fractures?

Typically, stress fractures are overuse injuries that occur after the muscle around the bone is fatigued. But it can also be caused by the impact of an unfamiliar surface (going from dirt to concrete), improper equipment (running barefoot or in shoes that are worn or not appropriate for running), or increased physical stress (going from sedentary to running miles a day).


Though they can occur anywhere in the body, most occur in the weight-bearing bones of the lower leg and foot. More than half are in the lower leg. Studies have found stress fractures to be most common in athletes that participate in tennis, track and field, basketball, or gymnastics. It’s also been noted that female athletes tend to be more susceptible, possibly due to other factors that contribute to a decrease in bone mass, which causes an increase in her chances of sustaining a stress fracture.

How are they diagnosed?

Most people see their doctor with a somewhat vague complaint of pain with activity that subsides with rest. During the medical exam, it’s important that the doctor consider the patient’s risk factors for stress fractures.


Typically, an X-ray is initially done to determine if there is a stress fracture.  However, an early/acute stress fracture is often not visible on the X-ray for several weeks after the pain begins, and sometimes it may never be visible. An MRI may need to be done.

Why would an MRI show a stress fracture when the X-ray doesn’t?

An MRI has better spatial resolution and specificity. This means it can detect minor stress reactions more easily. It’s also sensitive enough to detect other entities that might contribute to the bone being susceptible to a stress fracture.


An X-ray won’t show any changes in the bone in the very early stages of a stress fracture, where an MRI can show immediate documentation of the stress reactions of bony structures. An MRI done immediately after a marathon, for example, can show minor stress changes that would indicate that a stress fracture is imminent.


The Radiology Clinic is ideal for patients who believe that they may be suffering from a stress fracture. With state of the art imaging technology, you can get X-rays or MRIs to evaluate for stress injuries in order to get the appropriate treatment as soon as possible.


Contact The Radiology Clinic in Rockville, MD, today at 301-217-0500 to schedule an appointment.