Metatarsal Stress Fracture Treatment & Management

Updated: Jan 16, 2019
  • Author: Valerie E Cothran, MD; Chief Editor: Craig C Young, MD  more...
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Treatment

Acute Phase

Rehabilitation Program

Physical Therapy

The patient should rest from the offending activity. Immobilization is recommended for comfort, with use of a postoperative (wooden-soled) shoe or short CAM Walker (Bird and Cronin, Inc, Eagan, Minn). It is important to apply ice and elevate the foot to minimize pain and swelling. If there is marked pain or minimal evidence of healing for stress fractures of the second or third metatarsals, a short-leg walking cast can be used until there is radiographic evidence of healing.

Recreational Therapy

During the respite period from the offending activity, the patient may maintain fitness by cycling, aqua-running, or resistance training by using equipment that does not involve the affected area.

Surgical Intervention

Stress fractures of the second or third metatarsals rarely require surgical intervention. Most of these fractures heal uneventfully, and nonunion is rare. However, stress fractures of the fifth-metatarsal base are more problematic. Displacement of these fractures tends to increase with continued weight bearing. The treatment options are 2-fold as follows:

  • Less-active patients should be non-weight bearing in a short-leg cast for 6-8 weeks or until there is radiographic evidence of healing. If an established nonunion develops, screw fixation and/or bone grafting may be required. [22]

  • For active patients, early intramedullary screw fixation, with or without bone grafting, is often recommended. [23]

Consultations

Consult an orthopedic surgeon for fifth-metatarsal fractures or for second- or third-metatarsal fractures that do not demonstrate radiographic healing after 6 weeks.

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Recovery Phase

Rehabilitation Program

Physical Therapy

During the recovery phase, the patient may progress to weight bearing as tolerated, initially in a wooden-soled shoe, and then in a comfortable shoe.

Recreational Therapy

Aqua-running, swimming, or bicycling may be continued to maintain physical fitness.

Other Treatment (Injection, manipulation, etc.)

Albisetti et al reported their experience with diagnosing and treating stress fractures at the base of the second and third metatarsals in young ballet dancers from 2005-2007. [24] Of 150 trainee ballet dancers, 19 had stress fractures of the metatarsal bone bases. All of the dancers were recommended to rest, but external shockwave therapy (ESWT) was also used in 18 and electromagnetic fields (EMF) and low-intensity ultrasonography was used in 1, with good results in each case. [24]

Albisetti advised the best approach to metatarsal stress fractures is early diagnosis with clinical examination and radiologic studies such as x-ray and MRI. The investigators also noted ESWT led to good results, with a relatively short time of rest from the patients' activities and a return to dancing without pain. [24] However, further study is warranted given the small study size and that all but one of the young dancers received ESWT.

Smith et al identify the prevalence of vitamin D deficiency in patients with a low energy fracture of the foot or ankle. The study concluded that hypovitaminosis D was common among patients with a foot or ankle injury. Patients with a low energy fracture of the foot or ankle were at particular risk for low vitamin D, especially if they smoked, were obese, or had other medical risk factors. The authors conclude that since supplementation with vitamin D (± calcium) has been shown to reduce the risk of fragility fractures and improve fracture healing, monitoring of 25-OH vitamin D and supplementation should be considered in patients with fractures. [25]

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Maintenance Phase

Rehabilitation Program

Physical Therapy

The patient may be allowed to gradually return to his or her sport with a slow build-up in intensity and duration, with regular rest intervals. No more than a 10% increase in intensity or duration should be allowed from week to week. Any pain recurrence should prompt a rest period, followed by resuming the activity at a lower level.

Recreational Therapy

The patient may resume running with a slow increase in duration and intensity of the workouts (ie, no more than a 10% increase in intensity or duration per week).

Surgical Intervention

Patients who continue to have painful nonunion fractures are candidates for surgical intervention. [22] A fibrous nonunion that is not painful and does not limit the patient's functional abilities may be left alone.

Consultations

An orthopedic surgeon should be consulted in cases in which there is radiographic evidence of nonunion or prolonged pain.

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