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Do You Have a Stress Fracture? How to Tell if That Painful Pinch is Something to Worry About

On any given day, dancers are dealing with some kind of physical discomfort. And while ice-heat-rest-repeat is often the best remedy, persistent pain could indicate something more serious—like a stress fracture. Stress fractures have a myriad of causes and can mimic many other injuries. How do you know if your pain is from a stress fracture? Dance Spirit turned to Joseph Turcic, PT, DPT, CMPT, CSCS, FRCms, FRAs, of Symbio Physical Therapy in NYC, for a breakdown.


What They Feel Like

According to Turcic, you'll feel a sharp, deep pain that doesn't get better with rest, heat, ice, or massage. It's most noticeable after landing a jump or absorbing shock of any kind. "The pain can also get worse if you're sitting in a bumpy car or bus, because the vibrations will irritate the fracture," he says.

What Causes Them

The most common locations for stress fractures are the tibia bones in your legs, the tarsal bones of your feet, and the lower back. "The main causes are overuse and trying to dance through lingering injuries that didn't heal or weren't rehabbed properly," Turcic says. However, there are also medical causes to consider, including osteopenia, which is a condition that causes weak bones often due to low vitamin D levels.

What It Could Be Instead

Stress fractures, while common, aren't always the right diagnosis. "There are plenty of injuries that feel similarly," Turcic says, "including tendonitis, ligament sprains, shin splints, or lower back strains." The only way to know for sure is to consult your doctor, who will perform all the necessary testing.

So You Have a Stress Fracture—Now What?

If the stress fracture's in your foot or lower leg, you can expect to be in a boot for anywhere from 4 to 8 weeks. If it's in your lower back, your doctor will determine whether or not you need to wear a brace. The bottom line is that in order to let your body heal, you need to rest—otherwise there's a high chance you'll just aggravate the stress fracture more in the future.

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Photo by Joe Toreno. Hair by Marina Migliaccio and makeup by Lisa Chamberlain, both for the Rex Agency.

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