Understanding Foot Fractures And How To Treat Them

Endurance athletes can be prone to foot fractures because they spend so much time on their feet. Photo: www.shutterstock.com

If caught early, many of these types of injuries can be easily treated. 

Foot fractures, also known as Jones fractures, typically affect the fifth metatarsal, which is near the outside of your foot, and occur in varying degrees of severity for athletes. The namesake of the Jones Fracture is Sir Robert Jones, a British orthopedic surgeon who allegedly injured his foot while dancing around a tent pole at a military party. While most endurance athletes aren’t into tent-pole dancing (or maybe they are!), they can be prone to painful foot fractures that, if caught early, are more easily treated.

Foot fractures are divided into three types, the first of which is typically caused by spraining an ankle. In this case, athletes usually have no history of foot pain before the sprain. Treatment is usually straightforward and includes wearing a cast for a short period of time.

The second and most common is a stress fracture that actually breaks all the way through the metatarsal bone. Although it’s an acute injury, many athletes admit to feeling some pain in their foot before the injury, which may have been a sign of a pre-existing stress fracture that had not yet broken all the way through the bone.

It’s not uncommon in these cases for the bones to displace. Although the injury will usually heal if given enough time, many athletes opt for surgery to realign the bone fragments, resulting in several weeks of post-op recovery and immobilization.

RELATED: Treating And Preventing Stress Fractures

The last, and worst type of bony injury to the upper fifth metatarsal, is a long standing non-union fracture, which means a stress fracture whose bone fragments have remained unaligned for an extended period of time. These injuries don’t heal on their own and require surgery involving metal screw placement and bone grafting. These injuries can be quite difficult to heal and have resulted in career-ending injuries for some endurance athletes.

If you’ve experienced prolonged pain on the outside of your foot, having it checked out sooner rather than later can help avoid a serious and perhaps devastating injury. A simple doctor check-up including X-rays is all that’s needed for early detection and can help reduce the potential for a long-standing severe fracture, and allow for a speedier—and non-surgical—recovery.

This piece first appeared in Competitor magazine. 

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About The Author:

Dr. Post of Charlottesville, Va., is the medical director for Training Bible Coaching. He is a six-time finisher of the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii, and he blogs at www.johnpostmdsblog.blogspot.com

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