The metatarsal bones are the long thin bones along the top of the foot. These bones are susceptible to fractures both from singular traumas and repetitive stresses, and can vary in severity and the treatments necessary for healing. 

While many metatarsal fractures can heal on their own over time, the healing period for these type of fractures can be shortened through proper treatment.

What Are the Primary Causes of Metatarsal Fractures?

Metatarsal fractures often result from incidents in which one or more of the metatarsals experience a sudden crushing weight. A heavy object may fall onto the foot, or the foot may be stepped upon during sports practice. A fracture may also occur from a sudden twisting of the foot.

Stress fractures of the metatarsals are often the result of over-training in high impact sports such as running or gymnastics. These fractures consists of one or more small cracks in the bone.

What Are the Different Types of Metatarsal Fractures?

A displaced fracture involves a complete break of a bone, with both ends moved apart form each other, while a non-displaced fracture may have either a complete or partial break, but the bone sections remain in alignment.

The skin remains intact in a closed fracture, but is broken in an open fracture. Open fractures are then vulnerable to complications caused by bacterial infections.

A "crush" fracture may include cracking or chipping of the metatarsal from the impact of a hard object falling on the foot.

What Are the Symptoms of a Metatarsal Fracture?

The initial symptoms include pain and bruising. Swelling may accompany these symptoms or may be delayed for 1-2 days. Bruising will eventually fade but swelling will remain. The victim will experience pain when walking which will increase along with activity levels.

What Are the Treatment Options for Metatarsal Fractures?

The RICE (Rest, Icing, Compression, Elevation) protocol for injuries should relive initial pain and swelling. Stress fractures will usually heal without treatment with reduced activity.

Most stress or trauma induced fractures induced fractures can usually be treated at a local family medical care facility. The doctor will apply manual pressure along the metatarsals to determine if a fracture may have occurred, then perform or schedule an x-ray to confirm if a fracture is present.

A stabilization boot will then be prescribed. This protective footwear consists of an open topped boot with a thick sole and hard sides with interior padding, held in place by a series of velcro straps. The heavy sole provides an even distribution of weight while the straps and padding keep the foot immobile inside the boot. The victim may be required to miss work during the healing process.

Healing will usually be complete in 6-8 weeks, followed by a second x-ray for verification and a referral to a podiatrist for a final confirmation as well as an examination to ensure that the bone healed properly with no malformation of the foot.

Open and displaced fractures will often require surgery and a considerably longer convalescence. Complete rest will be necessary in the initial stage of recovery, followed by gradual mobility aided by a cast or stabilizing boot coupled with crutches. Physical rehabilitation is required after healing to restore strength and flexibility to the foot and leg.

Contact a family medical care clinic to learn more.