Stress Fracture of the Lower Leg

Over 50 percent of all stress fractures occur in the bones of the lower leg and foot. A stress fracture in the lower leg is a small crack in either the tibia or fibula caused by overuse and repetitive impact.

Stress fractures typically begin as small cracks in the bone. If left untreated, stress fractures can progress quickly. If you have a sharp pain in your lower leg, it may be due to a stress fracture. Visit your doctor for diagnosis and treatment.

Causes of stress fractures

Stress fractures are typically caused by overtraining or overuse. Repetitive stress on the lower leg from activities like running or jumping can cause fatigued muscles to become less effective in absorbing the impact. The force of the impact is then transferred to the tibia and fibula, causing small cracks and slivers in the bone.

Some sport-related activities that are possible causes of stress fractures include: 

  • Basketball. 
  • Gymnastics. 
  • Running on hard surfaces like concrete or asphalt. 
  • Volleyball.

Studies have shown that female athletes are more susceptible to stress fractures than their male counterparts.

In addition to exercise-related causes, certain health conditions like osteoporosis (loss of bone density) and obesity can contribute to the formation of stress factors.

Symptoms of stress fractures

Since stress fractures do not occur from a sudden trauma like other lower leg fractures, they are sometimes difficult to diagnose. In some cases, lower leg stress fractures can be misdiagnosed as shin splints, due to the similarity of symptoms and the fact that x-rays cannot always detect stress fractures.

The main symptoms of stress fractures in the lower leg are generalized pain, discomfort, tenderness, and swelling in your shin or calf.

Treatment of stress fractures

The least invasive treatments of stress fractures can be administered when your fracture is diagnosed early, before it grows into a larger break in the bone.

Rest and time are the main remedies for stress fractures. Your stress fracture should heal on its own if you refrain from weight-bearing or repetitive leg exercises for about six to eight weeks. If you resume the exercises that caused the stress fracture sooner, you risk causing a larger break in the bone, which may require more extensive treatment. Your doctor may prescribe the use of crutches or a cane to allow the stress fracture to heal.

Be sure to visit your doctor immediately if you begin to feel pain in your lower leg.