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Metatarsal Fractures: Causes & Recovery Guide


by Premier Hospitals | May 31, 2023 |

Metatarsal Fractures: Exploring Causes and Recovery

Metatarsal fractures can significantly impact foot health and mobility. This article aims to provide a comprehensive understanding of metatarsal fractures, including their causes, recovery process, and preventive measures. Whether you're recovering from a metatarsal fracture or seeking information to prevent one, read on to learn more.

What is Metatarsal Fractures?

The metatarsal bones are a group of five long bones in the foot, found between the bones of the toes and the tarsal bones (a group of seven bones situated towards the back of the foot). The outside of the metatarsal bone-the hard bit-is called the cortex. Any break in the cortex of a metatarsal bone is a fracture. The analogy we use is that if you've got a teacup and it's got a crack in it, it's technically a broken teacup. If you've got a broken teacup that you've just driven over with a steam roller, you've still got a broken teacup, but you've got a completely different problem to deal with. So basically, a metatarsal fracture is any break of a metatarsal , and there are lots of different types.

What Terminology Will I Hear Regarding Metatarsal Fractures?

You're only really likely to hear they've got a fractured metatarsal. The terms you're likely to hear are avulsion fracture, which is when a little piece of bone pulls off a stress fracture or a Lisfranc injury to the foot. A Lisfranc injury is usually a ligament injury in the midfoot with small avulsion fractures, which are little bits of bone that pull off the metatarsals. These can be devastating injuries and often require surgery. But the most common injury seen over the years in terms of metatarsal fractures is a stress fracture of the fifth metatarsal, also known as a Jones fracture. The fifth metatarsal is the sticky bit on the outside of your foot, halfway between your ankle and your toes. These also often need an operation because they have the nasty habit of not joining up if left to heal.

How Do Metatarsal Fractures Happen?

Stress fractures are cracks in the bone caused by repetitive strain or overuse, as opposed to acute fractures, which are caused by direct impact or trauma. Stress fractures rarely happen to the second, third, and fourth metatarsals and rarely require surgery when they do. And stress fractures of the first metatarsal don't happen as a general rule. But as mentioned above, they are relatively common on the fifth metatarsal. Overuse in flimsy shoes is probably the best way to give yourself a fifth metatarsal stress fracture. It's actually very rare for someone to be stamped on and fracture a metatarsal, but it can happen. The other injuries tend to occur as a result of twisting injuries or a very heavy fall on the foot. And that's when you get Lisfranc injuries.

How Painful Are Metatarsal Fractures?

You're not going to fracture your foot and not know about it. But, for example, with a Lisfranc injury, when you pop the ligament and pull off a little piece of bone, you just can't run around. With a Jones fracture, you may get some symptoms for a few days or even weeks beforehand, and suddenly it cracks and hurts. It's not pain like getting crushed by a bus, but it is the moderate-to-severe pain associated with any significant fracture.

What Is the Typical Recovery Period for Metatarsal Fractures?

Usually above seven weeks if it's a conventional metatarsal fracture where you've pulled off a tiny flake of bone. Very few people will be able to recover within three months. And if you end up having surgery, it's more likely to be six months, especially if you have a Lisfranc injury that's unstable. In these cases, you have to put metalwork in and then take it all out, so the recovery from all of that is at least six months.

What Does the Recovery Process Look Like for Metatarsal Fractures?

It depends on what kind of injury you have and if there's been an operation or not. Usually, you are going to be in a boot with crutches. And if you have surgery, then you've got to wait for the wounds to heal before you can start the rehabilitation process. If you are having multiple little avulsion fractures in his foot, it can be treated with a boot, and the healing time would be nine or 10 weeks, along with physiotherapy for about that length of time. When you've first broken it, you must simply try to keep the swelling down, and as the healing progresses, the physios will help to get some strength back and get the range of motion back in any joints that are stiff.
What Are the Most Common Setbacks or Secondary Injuries Associated with Metatarsal Fractures?
If managed well, you don't usually have setback injuries. The one thing that can happen is that if you try to get back to your daily routine too quickly, it can lead to a recurrent injury to the foot.
Is the Metatarsal Area Vulnerable to Future Injuries?
It is until you've recovered. With a Jones fracture, if you put a screw in the middle of the bone and it heals up, you won't see a re-fracture after that. Usually, doctors tend not to take the screws out because they confer more strength on the bone. Keep in mind that this article serves as a general guide, and it's always important to consult with a healthcare professional for personalised advice and treatment options tailored to your specific condition. We wish you a swift and complete recovery, and may your future be filled with strong and healthy feet.