How is a Stress Fracture Diagnosed?


Stress fractures are tiny cracks in the bone caused by repeated pressure or trauma. A stress fracture can be diagnosed from a medical exam during which your doctor will apply pressure to the injured area and check for swelling. They will inquire about your medical history, physical activities, and medications. 

Certain imaging tests may be needed to confirm a stress fracture, including:

  • X-rays - A common imaging test used to determine a stress fracture. But because the hairline cracks in the bone are so small, a more powerful imaging test may be required. Evidence of a stress fracture may take longer to register on an X-ray — from weeks to months. 
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) - Using radio waves, magnetic fields, and computerized technology, an MRI provides a more detailed image of the injury. This test also can better distinguish between stress fractures and soft tissue tears. 
  • Bone scan - A small dose of radioactive solution is injected or delivered intravenously into the body. The substance gets absorbed by areas where the bone is repairing itself, registering on an image as a bright, white spot. Because many issues can look alike on bone scans, they may not always be able to confirm a stress fracture.

How is a Stress Fracture Treated?


After receiving your diagnosis, there are various stress fracture treatments your doctor can recommend. Many of these remedies involve self-care measures at home while others are simple, non-surgical options. Although uncommon, sometimes surgery can be required. 

Self-care measures 

Fortunately, most stress fractures require simple, at-home treatments. These can include:

  • Resting - Stay off the injured area. Talk to your doctor about how long you should rest before returning to regular physical activities. 
  • Icing - Apply an ice pack for 10 to 15 minutes to the affected area. This will help with the pain and swelling. 
  • Elevating - If your foot, ankle, or leg is swollen, try elevating your leg above your heart while lying on your back. 
  • Return slowly - When your doctor says it’s okay, plan a gentle return to activities. Start with low-impact exercises and build up to your previous routines. 

Non-surgical options

A common path to recovery from stress fractures involves reducing the weight on the injured bone. Treatments for stress fractures in the foot or lower leg may include a brace, boot, cane, or crutches to help redistribute your weight, giving the bone a chance to heal. 

If your discomfort is consistent, your physician may suggest taking over-the-counter pain medications such as acetaminophen while you recover. 

Surgical options

Occasionally, surgery is necessary for healing stress fractures, especially for injuries in areas with poor blood supply. Professional athletes or labor workers with stress fractures may opt for surgery to return more quickly to their sport or place of employment. 

In many cases, stress fracture surgery involves inserting specialized screws, pins, or plates to secure the bones during the healing process. Surgery can also be necessary if a stress fracture goes untreated and breaks completely.



A stress fracture can cause tenderness or sharp pain in the affected area. It can begin with a dull ache while performing an activity and intensify over time. It is often difficult to put stress or weight on the area with the stress fracture, making standing/walking very difficult.

If you rest and stop performing the activity that may have caused the stress fracture, it can take roughly six to eight weeks for it to heal.

If you have a stress fracture in your foot, your doctor may suggest keeping off of it as much as possible, especially if walking causes pain. Avoid walking on hard surfaces or in unsupportive footwear. Your physician may prescribe a boot or crutches to help with healing.

When the pain subsides, a doctor may take an X-ray to confirm that the stress fracture has healed. Definitely consult with your doctor before returning to activities.

Get Care

Trust NewYork-Presbyterian for Stress Fracture Treatment

The specialists at NewYork-Presbyterian can offer non-surgical treatments and advanced surgical solutions to various orthopedic issues. They are experts in identifying the symptoms and causes of stress fractures in the foot, leg, wrist, pelvis, hip, and spine. Contact us, and our multidisciplinary teams will help you chart a course to long-term recovery.