I have been ramping up my mileage as part of my marathon training. My foot has been sore and aching when I run. Someone told me that stress fractures don't normally show up on an x-ray until they start healing. If this is true, is there really any point to getting an x-ray if I think I did get a stress fracture from running too much?
Great question! This is a question I often hear from runners in San Francisco and Houston. Most runners are busy and don't wont to waste their time going to a podiatry office getting an x-ray of their foot unless they really think the x-ray will change what they need to do to get the foot to stop aching and heal. (And of course, get back to running and training). But when you suspect a stress fracture, there are good reasons to get an xray.
3 reasons to get an x-ray of your foot if you think that you have a stress fracture.
The 1st reason to get an xray of your foot is to make sure that the metatarsal has not actually cracked all the way through the bone or broken into pieces.
The 2nd reason is to confirm that the metatarsal, if it is broken, is still in a good position that will heal correctly. If the bone is moved out of place after it has broken that it will not heal correctly and will result in what doctors call a “malunion.” When the metatarsal bone heals in an abnormal position it will alter the way that forces are distributed across the ball of the foot. An unnatural distribution of forces across the ball of the foot will put other metatarsals at risk of problems later. It can also increase the chances of nerve compression that can lead to a neuroma.
The 3rd reason to get an xray of your foot when you suspect you have a stress fracture is for peace of mind. Having an x-ray confirms that the bone is not actually broken and will not likely get worse if you are walking on the foot as it heals. A fracture walking boot is made to protect a stress fracture and allow you to walk while the bone heals. if you have had an xray of the foot and confirmed that the bone is not completely broken, and you suspect that it is just a stress fracture, then you can treat it as such and feel confident you’re not going to make things significantly worse if you walk on the foot while protected in a fracture walking boot.
Dr. Christopher Segler, D.P.M. is board certified, American Board of Podiatric Medicine. His practice is limited to runners, triathletes and active young adults who want to stay active. He travels often to accommodate patients with complicated injuries in San Francisco, Houston, and Hawaii. He also provides remote consultations via Skype for injured expat patients living abroad who need expert advice, but cannot readily access a true foot and ankle expert while overseas. If you have a question about a complicated foot or ankle injury that just isn't getting better, you can reach him directly at 713-489-7674.