Metatarsal stress fractures are a common foot injury that can be quite a nuisance to heal. The metatarsals are the five long bones in the foot that form a bridge between the toes and the middle of the foot. These roughly drumstick-shaped bones are fairly sturdy, but can be fractured during twisting injuries, or something heavy smashing down upon the top of the foot. These fractures are treated with either immobilization in a walking boot, or surgery if the bones are out of place or unstable. This treatment is straight forward, and is successful usually in a fairly set amount of time.
A stress fracture is something entirely different. Stress fractures occur when bone is subjected to long term low grade stress and strain that slowly causes internal damage to its interior. These stresses can be common place activities like steeping off of platforms at work, or lever and pedal use. Even the position of the foot on a cross bar under a desk can put strain on the metatarsal. Poorly supportive shoes can magnify the risk of bone injury, and some people are even at greater risk for a stress fracture because of issues with the quality of their bones.
Stress fractures can have multiple symptoms, ranging from a dull ache in the middle of the foot to a sharp pain while standing and walking. Stress fractures can occur in many places along the metatarsal length, and can sometimes occur in several bones at once.
The treatment of metatarsal stress fractures is a little trickier than treating a regular fracture. In most instances, surgery is neither necessary nor helpful. Immobilization in either a walking boot, or less commonly a cast, is needed to reduce stress to the bone and allow it to heal. A stiff soled shoe can be used for support in a small number of mild cases for relief. Most metatarsal stress fractures take anywhere from one to three months to heal, and sometimes take longer. The bone simply needs time to mend, although in some cases an electronic bone stimulator can be used in cases that refuse to heal. The amount of time one must wait can be frustrating for people trying to get active again. It can be even more frustrating for athletes trying to get back to their sports. Fortunately, these stress fractures do eventually heal, and stay healed for the most part.