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A stress fracture or hairline fracture is not as immediately obvious as other types of breaks, but there are some symptoms that can be observed. Localized pain or tenderness is common, as is swelling of the surrounding tissue. These symptoms will increase with activity and ease with rest. The patient might also notice tingling or numbness in the affected area, and his or her mobility might become limited if the fracture is in a foot, ankle or leg.
Hairline fractures typically result from repeated or constant strain on a bone. Most often, these stress fractures occur in the legs and feet, where bones are required to support the body’s weight. Athletes frequently put their bodies under increased strain and are especially vulnerable to these hairline fractures.
Stress on the bone can cause thin cracks to appear over time. Initially, hairline fracture symptoms are mild and might be overlooked by the patient. With repeated stress, hairline fractures become more pronounced, and the symptoms become more severe.
Pain and swelling are the primary hairline fracture symptoms. These symptoms are localized, or focused on the site of the fracture. Symptom severity typically depends on the amount of stress put on the fracture. Exercise will cause pain and swelling to increase, but these symptoms will ease with rest.
Continued strain will cause the condition to worsen. With time, stress will cause the fracture to grow. As a result, less exertion will be required before hairline fracture symptoms begin to flare up.
Other hairline fracture symptoms might be observed as well. The patient might notice a tingling sensation or numbness in the area. Circulation might be affected, and the area might appear either pale or bruised.
Depending on the location of the hairline fracture, the patient might also notice stiffness in an affected joint. Exercising the joint irritates the injury, causing inflammation and swelling. This swelling can hamper mobility.
Initially, hairline fractures might be hard to detect. Small stress fractures might be too slight to show up on X-rays. By the time the hairline fracture symptoms become serious, however, an X-ray typically can confirm the diagnosis.
Treatment of hairline fractures begins with rest. Healing can take as long as two months, and in that time, stress to the affected bone must be limited. For injuries affecting legs or feet, crutches might be required.
Often, an athlete suffering from a hairline fracture will be reluctant to give up exercising entirely. Any exercises performed should avoid putting strain on the injury. Non-impact exercises such as swimming might be appropriate, but consultation with a medical professional is recommended before adopting an exercise routine during recovery.
Over-the-counter medication should be sufficient for pain management. Acetaminophen can help reduce pain and swelling, but some studies indicate that other painkillers, such as ibuprofen and naproxen, might slow the healing process. Ice can also help the sufferer manage pain and swelling.