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Stress Fractures of the Knee: Symptoms, Treatment, & Recovery

Stress Fractures of the Knee: Symptoms, Treatment, & Recovery

As the name suggests, a stress fracture is a tiny crack in the bone caused by repeated stress on the area. Stress fractures of the knee might present as swelling and knee pain that is less severe than a broken bone. Often, athletes or avid runners suffer from stress fractures due to repetitive running and jumping motions. While stress fractures of the knee may not be as painful or debilitating as broken bones or other injuries, if left untreated, they can cause more serious issues. 

What Causes Stress Fractures of the Knee?

Stress fractures of the knee are often caused by repetitive motions, such as those performed by long-distance runners. These repetitive activities are more likely to cause stress fractures when increases in a person’s routine are implemented too quickly.

Causes of stress fractures:

  • Overuse
  • Repetitive pounding (as with high-impact activities such as running or jumping)

Stress Fractures of the Knee Risk Factors

Risk factors for stress fractures of the knee include:

  • Obesity
  • Osteoporosis
  • Poor muscle strength
  • Being a woman, especially with absent or irregular periods
  • Participating in high-impact sports like running, track, basketball, etc
  • Previous stress fractures
  • Increasing activity too quickly

Symptoms of  Stress Fractures of the Knee

Patients with stress fractures of the knee will often have symptoms of anterior knee pain, swelling, bruising, tenderness to the touch in one particular area (pinpoint pain), limping, pain that worsens during activity and lessens with rest, and pain that is constant whether you are resting or performing activities.

How are Stress Fractures of the Knee Diagnosed?

Your doctor will listen to your symptoms, take your medical history, and perform a physical examination. Diagnostic tests such as X-rays, MRIs, and bone scans may be performed to get a clear picture of your stress fracture.

Treatment for Stress Fractures of the Knee

In most cases, stress fractures of the knee will only require nonsurgical interventions to heal. If you do not address the stress fracture early on, it may result in a complete fracture, or a displaced fracture, which would require surgical intervention.

Nonsurgical Intervention

Resting, icing, and elevating the knee; reducing or eliminating activities or sports that cause you further pain; and using crutches to help rest the knee to allow it to heal are all nonsurgical strategies that will help you recover from a stress fracture of the knee.

Surgical Intervention

If you do not take steps to rest or heal your stress fracture, your condition may worsen. The stress fracture may become a complete fracture, requiring immobilization. Your stress fracture may even become a displaced fracture. With displaced fractures, surgical intervention, such as ORIF surgery is required. During ORIF surgery, your doctor will use pins or screws to fix the displaced piece of bone into place.

Stress Fractures of the Knee Recovery Time

Recovery from stress fractures of the knee varies depending upon the person and whether you need surgical intervention. In most cases, conservative treatments will ensure you are back to your regular routine within 6-8 weeks. If you require surgical intervention, you will be restricted from walking for a period of time, and then go through a course of physical therapy to get you back on track. 

How Can I Prevent Stress Fractures of the Knee?

Preventing stress fractures of the knee is possible if you take a few precautions with your exercise routines. 

Techniques for preventing stress fractures:

  • Cross training – varying your exercise routines can help you avoid repetitive movements that cause stress fractures
  • Increase your workout load slowly and be sure to incorporate plenty of rest
  • Choose low-impact exercises or sports to reduce your likelihood of suffering a stress fracture
  • Eat a well-balanced diet to get all the nutrients required to keep your bones healthy and strong
  • Use the correct type of footwear for your activity or sport

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