Stress fractures in athletes. A study of 320 cases

Am J Sports Med. Jan-Feb 1987;15(1):46-58. doi: 10.1177/036354658701500107.


We analyzed cases of 320 athletes with bone scan-positive stress fractures (M = 145, F = 175) seen over 3.5 years and assessed the results of conservative management. The most common bone injured was the tibia (49.1%), followed by the tarsals (25.3%), metatarsals (8.8%), femur (7.2%), fibula (6.6%), pelvis (1.6%), sesamoids (0.9%), and spine (0.6%). Stress fractures were bilateral in 16.6% of cases. A significant age difference among the sites was found, with femoral and tarsal stress fractures occurring in the oldest, and fibular and tibial stress fractures in the youngest. Running was the most common sport at the time of injury but there was no significant difference in weekly running mileage and affected sites. A history of trauma was significantly more common in the tarsal bones. The average time to diagnosis was 13.4 weeks (range, 1 to 78) and the average time to recovery was 12.8 weeks (range, 2 to 96). Tarsal stress fractures took the longest time to diagnose and recover. Varus alignment was found frequently, but there was no significant difference among the fracture sites, and varus alignment did not affect time to diagnosis or recovery. Radiographs were taken in 43.4% of cases at the time of presentation but were abnormal in only 9.8%. A group of bone scan-positive stress fractures of the tibia, fibula, and metatarsals (N = 206) was compared to a group of clinically diagnosed stress fractures of the same bone groups (N = 180), and no significant differences were found. Patterns of stress fractures in athletes are different from those found in military recruits. Using bone scan for diagnosis indicates that tarsal stress fractures are much more common than previously realized. Time to diagnosis and recovery is site-dependent. Technetium99 bone scan is the single most useful diagnostic aid. Conservative treatment of stress fractures in athletes is satisfactory in the majority of cases.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Athletic Injuries / therapy*
  • Female
  • Fractures, Bone / diagnosis
  • Fractures, Bone / diagnostic imaging
  • Fractures, Bone / therapy*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Military Personnel
  • Radionuclide Imaging
  • Running
  • Stress, Mechanical