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We discuss hairline fracture – symptoms, treatment, places in the body where they occur and healing time

The presence of small cracks in bone is referred to as hairline fractures. They usually result from repeated use of force and most often due to overuse; for example, running long distances, repetitive acts of jumping up and down, etc. Hairline fracture can also result due to day-to-day use of a bone that has become weak due to the presence of diseases such as osteoporosis

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Hairline fractures generally tend to occur in the bones of the foot and the lower leg that bear the weight. Anyone can experience hairline fractures, but track and field athletes are most vulnerable to develop them. Excessive indulgence in a new workout program can also increase the susceptibility to developing hairline fractures.

Hairline fracture symptoms

Some of the signs and symptoms of a hairline fracture are listed below:

  • Pain
  • Inflammation or swelling
  • Increased tenderness at a particular area
  • Rest leads to decreased pain and swelling
  • Increased activity results in pain and swelling
  • The progress of hairline fracture damage can result in continuous pain even while resting
  • Pain will begin earlier than usual with each consecutive workout

It is important to note that the symptoms of hairline fractures may be barely visible in the early stages. Hence, one must consult a doctor on experiencing pain, else it can result in deterioration of the condition.

A few cases of hairline fractures do not heal completely, which can result in perennial, chronic pain. In such cases, a specialist should be consulted to address the issue else it can lead to development of other hairline fractures.

Causes of a hairline fracture

When excessive amounts of force is regularly applied to the bones of the lower legs and the feet that is beyond their normal capability to bear, then it can result in hairline fractures . The increased application of force leads to an imbalance between the growth of bone and resorption, which are processes that always go on. Repetitive use of force precipitates the turnover of bone cells, but new bones cells can be added at the time of rest.

When the bones endure excessive force without getting any time for recuperation, then the body resorbs the bone cells at a quicker pace, than its ability to replenish them. This can then lead to development of bone fatigue. Repeated and continuous force on such fatigued bones eventually causes the formation of cracks in them, which later progresses to become hairline fractures.

Some of the risk factors that increase the vulnerability to developing hairline fractures are as follows:

  • Individuals who suddenly indulge in increased physical activity after leading a sedentary lifestyle are at increased risk to developing hairline fractures; for example, athletes who suddenly increase the duration, intensity or frequency of their training periods, people who join the military and undergo extreme physical routines, etc.
  • Individuals who participate in sports such as basketball, track and field events, gymnastics or tennis, etc.
  • Hairline fractures are also common in women who experience absent or abnormal menstrual periods
  • The presence of certain diseases of the bones which weaken them, also increases the vulnerability to developing hairline fractures
  • Individuals with foot problems such as rigid, high arches or flat feet are also at greater risk to developing the condition.

Hairline fracture treatment

The treatment for hairline fractures can vary as per the location of the fracture and also the time period available for recuperation. Some of the treatment methods for hairline fractures include the following:

  • Therapy involves the use of crutches or a walking brace or boot, so as to decrease the load on the affected bone to bear weight. Severe cases of hairline fracture may require the affected bone to be immobilized with a cast or a splint.
  • The doctor may recommend the intake of pain relievers such as acetaminophen to alleviate the pain associated with hairline fractures. It is important to note that certain painkiller medications such as naproxen, ibuprofen, etc., can obstruct the healing of bones.
  • In rare cases, hairline fractures may need to be corrected via surgery to promote complete healing. This is especially the case when the fracture occurs in those parts of the body that has poor supply of blood.

Hairline fractures may take some time to heal. Hence, some of the lifestyle changes that are needed to allow the recuperation of the affected bone are discussed below:

  • It is important to take plenty of rest, till the doctor advises that the bone has healed and is capable of bearing weight
  • All the physical activities have to be resumed slowly. Strenuous activities such as running have to be resumed at a very slow pace and the healed bone has to be gradually subjected to other forms of physical activities
  • One may apply ice packs on the affected areas 3 to 4 times in a day for about 10 minutes each time. This can result in reduction of the pain and swelling
  • Intake a diet that is rich in nutrients, particularly calcium so as to strengthen the bones.
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