Stress fractures may be more appropriately named stress reactions. The bone develops tiny cracks from repetitive stress. The stress or load is at a level lower than occurs when the single load trauma that causes a clear break through the bone.
Stress fractures occur when there's an imbalance between how much bone is broken down and how much is replaced. This cycle of bone resorption and replacement is a normal process. But it can get side tracked when repetitive stress or load from running or jumping disrupt bone function.
Activities must be modified (changed) in order to relieve pain and allow for normal healing. Sometimes proper shoe wear and a change in the training program are needed. Nutrition and running surface should also be evaluated as possible factors in healing and recovery (and to prevent future fractures).
Symptom severity can help guide treatment. Severe pain is often treated with no weight-bearing or partial weight-bearing using crutches. A pneumatic leg brace has been shown to decrease pain and speed up the recovery process.
Return to full activity may occur within a matter of weeks. But if healing is delayed, then recovery can take four to six months or more (up to a year). Once a stress fracture has occurred, the athlete must guard against future recurrences.
Proper training schedules, avoiding sudden increases in training intensity, and wearing the correct shoes are important. Likewise, adequate rest and good nutrition are key factors in recovery time.