Stress fractures of the foot : Part two

Written by: Mr Turab Syed
Edited by: Kalum Alleyne

In the first part of this series, we spoke to Mr Turab Syed, a top consultant orthopaedic surgeon in London, Manchester and Stirling, about stress fractures and how they occur. Now he has returned for the second and final part to share his knowledge on the symptoms, diagnosis and treatment for those unfortunate enough to suffer a stress fracture in one of their feet.


A woman with pain in her feet


What are symptoms?

The most common symptom of a stress fracture of the foot is pain on the forefoot that worsens with activity but improves with rest. As previously mentioned, the patient won’t be able to pinpoint an exact moment that caused the injury. Night pain occasionally may occur. During later stages if treatment not instituted, the pain may persist after cessation of activity.


How are stress fractures diagnosed?

Diagnosis is done by clinical examination by an orthopaedic surgeon or a physiotherapist. Though X-rays are the most common first radiological investigation, but sometimes x-rays show no fracture, despite the patient feeling pain. In such cases, an MRI scan is recommended (a gold standard to look for stress fracture / bone marrow oedema syndrome) besides a bone scan.


MRI Scan can pickup bone marrow stress response in the bones which may be the cause of the pain. Bone marrow stress response precedes stress fracture, so if spotted early you will be advised to take preventative action like reducing activity, in order to prevent stress fracture.


How are stress fractures treated?

The most common treatments for stress fractures are:

  • Selective rest / reduction of activities, off-loading the limb by use of moon boot and crutches
  • Having bone physiology checked and corrected if necessary
  • Increase vitamin D and calcium intake
  • Increase vitamin C intake (important for healing)
  • Rest

Most fractures heal within 6-12 weeks, but if the pain continues further medical attention and surgery may be required.


Sometimes a bone stimulator can be used under the guidance of a physician or an orthopaedic surgeon to promote and accelerate healing, especially for those with risk factors like diabetes or smoking.


Rarely surgical intervention is required if conservative measures fail.


How long does it take to heal?

The length of time needed for a stress fracture to heal depends on a number of factors;

  • The most important is how quickly it is diagnosed, once you feel symptoms, the quicker you see your GP, the quicker you can be treated and recover.
  • Whether or not someone has any underlying bone-related conditions is also a factor. Conditions like osteoporosis or osteopenia which can be brought on by age, medical conditions or cancer medication, can slow recovery down.
  • Low vitamin D levels also contribute to slower recovery. This is because the vitamin D we get from the sun helps the body absorb calcium, which is vital for strong bones. So, those in the Northern hemisphere, in countries with less sunlight (e.g., Scandinavia, North Europe and the UK) will generally take longer to recover. It is recommended that such people take over-the-counter supplements to keep their vitamin D levels high.
  • Athletes can sometimes take longer to heal due to more serious or repeated stress fractures which occur because of their profession.
  • Female athletes are particularly vulnerable to stress fractures and can take longer to heal. This is because of the “female athlete triad”, a combination of menstrual dysfunction, low bone density.

Generally speaking, healthy people with no underlying bone conditions and sufficient levels of vitamin D recover quicker than those mentioned above.


If a fracture is present for a long time, because someone hasn’t had it assessed by a medical professional, a black line may form on the foot. This would suggest that the body is trying to “self-heal” through periosteal bone formation, which is when the body forms new bone in order to attempt to fix the damaged area. This can be problematic as the new bone grows on top of the old, still damaged one, possibly causing further pain and discomfort in the already injured area.


If you think you might be suffering from a stress fracture you should seek the advice of an orthopaedic specialist. Visit Mr Turab Syed’s Top Doctors profile, where you can request an appointment with him.

By Mr Turab Syed
Orthopaedic surgery

Mr Turab Syed is a leading consultant orthopaedic and trauma surgeon who currently sees patients at the Forth Valley Royal HospitalBMI The Alexandra HospitalBMI Kings Park Hospital and Harley Health Village. Mr Syed worked at Royal Free London Hospital between April 2017 and Aug 2019 before moving to Scotland. Mr Syed specialises in sports injuries and is clinically interested in degeneration of the lower limb from many different conditions such as arthritis.

He is one of the few surgeons in Scotland offering minimally invasive surgery, meaning no more travel to London for cutting edge surgery for patients. MIS allows Mr Syed to carry out procedures with smaller scars, less chances of infection, less swelling, and faster recovery from surgery. Mr Syed also has extensive experience in surgical treatment via ligament reconstruction, joint reconstruction and tendon treatment of the ankle, knee, foot, and hip, as well as stem cell and shockwave treatments. Mr Syed effectively treats his patients with the aim of preserving and improving joint mobility.

Mr Turab Syed received his primary medical training from the prestigious King Edward Medical University in Lahore, Pakistan. He completed his basic surgical training in Oxford Deanery Rotation and also at Raigmore General in Inverness. He completed his Higher Surgical training at hospitals based in Oxford & Cambridge Deaneries and Jersey. Mr Syed received a research-based Master's diploma from the University of Bath by producing a qualifying thesis.

Mr Turab Syed received fellowship training in Lower Limb Arthroplasty, Foot and Ankle Surgery as well as Sports Surgery and Trauma. During this time, he first learnt about minimally invasive surgery (MIS). He completed this training at University Hospital Wales and the University Hospital Llandough and later received advanced training cadaveric training in MIS procedures in France (University of Strasbourg), Germany (Munich and Frankfurt) and the Netherlands (Academic Medical Centre, Amsterdam). These procedures include MIS chilectomy, MICA (minimally invasive Chevron & Akin's) osteotomy to correct bunions, MIS hammer toe correction, MIS mallet toe correction by preserving joint motion, and MIS-DMMO for forefoot pain and metatarsalgia. Mr Turab Syed also completed a travelling fellowship at Klinikum Hoechst in Frankfurt. 

He has published extensively about both elective orthopaedic and trauma. He has around 28 publications comprising full articles and abstracts. He has had research published in the "injury journal" EJOST, International Orthopaedics, as well as the prestigious Foot and Ankle Clinics of North America. Additionally, Mr Syed is an Academic Tutor for the Masters in Orthopaedic Surgery course at the University of Edinburgh.

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