Stress fractures are typically not one but a series of micro-fractures or hairline breaks that run along the bone. Long-distance runners, hikers, backpackers, and in-line skaters are the most common sufferers of stress fractures.
With a stress fracture, you typically don’t have a telltale snap or pop that occurs in other breaks. More often, you wake up one day with pain radiating down the top of one or two of your toes to the center of your foot or along your shinbone. You may feel pain when you walk. You may even notice redness or swelling on top of your foot. When you press your finger on that spot, you feel a stabbing pain that immediately grabs your attention. The front of the shin is also a likely place for a fracture accompanied by the trademark pinpoint of pain.
Don’t try to treat this kind of pain yourself. It definitely warrants a visit to your orthopedist or podiatrist, who will X-ray your foot to make sure that your injury is a stress fracture. The doctor will probably prescribe anti-inflammatory medication, ice, and elevation, and implore you to stay off your feet. In extreme cases, he may even put you in a soft or hard cast.
If you think you have a stress fracture, stop exercising immediately. When you continue to run on a stress fracture, you transform a minor injury into one that can take months to heal.