Stress fractures are often associated with athletes, but that doesn’t mean that these are the only professionals who are susceptible to this type of overuse injury. Construction workers can also wind up suffering from stress fractures due to the conditions of their work.
The first step for any worker who has been diagnosed with a stress fracture to take is to learn more about these surprisingly commonplace injuries. Read on to find some answers to commonly asked questions that can help.
What is a Stress Fracture?
Let’s start with the basics. Stress fractures are small cracks that form in bones when the muscles surrounding them become fatigued and cease to absorb stress sufficiently. When this happens, it can cause shocks to be absorbed by the bones, which is what winds up causing these tiny fractures.
Don’t be fooled by the name. Stress fractures are quite different from acute fractures. The latter occurs due to traumatic force, rather than repetitive stress. Both of these types of injuries are surprisingly common on construction sites but since they are different types of injuries, they must be handled differently.
What Are the Symptoms of Stress Fractures?
Most stress fractures occur in the lower extremities. This makes sense since the feet and lower legs must support substantially more weight and are typically exposed to greater amounts of stress.
These types of injuries tend to be quite painful. However, the pain is typically alleviated by rest and elevation of the legs. More often than not, the pain will be most noticeable to construction workers while they are actively engaged in repetitive motions at work.
How Are Stress Fractures Diagnosed?
Most construction injuries are acute, not chronic. The fact that stress fractures get worse over time instead of happening all at once influences how they are diagnosed and treated. Most workers don’t even know that they are suffering from stress fractures, in particular, when they head to the doctor, so the treatment process typically begins with a definitive diagnosis.
For those who have only been suffering from pain caused by stress fractures for two weeks or less, x-rays are not generally as effective of a diagnostic tool as they would be for acute fractures. That’s because visible signs of new bone formation don’t begin to appear until the injuries start to heal, which doesn’t tend to happen until at least a week or two after the pain begins.
There are three other types of diagnostic imaging that are more commonly used to diagnose stress fractures. Bone scans used to be the most popular diagnostic test. Today, though, MRIs and CT scans have become the preferred methods for definitively diagnosing stress fractures.
How Are Stress Fractures Treated?
The good news for those who have suffered stress fractures due to muscle fatigue and overuse is that there are several different treatment methods available. The majority of these treatments are non-invasive and surgery is only recommended for the most severe of these injuries.
For most stress fractures, doctors will recommend immediately stopping the activity that has been causing pain and at least one to six weeks of rest. Ice packs can also be applied to the area and elevating the affected foot may also help.
Protective footwear such as stiff-soled shoes or removable fracture braces may be prescribed. In some cases, it may also be necessary to have a cast or a boot placed in order to relieve any stress on the foot or leg. In these cases, it’s usually necessary for the patient to use crutches until the bone has begun to heal.
In some of the most extreme cases, a surgical intervention called internal fixation may be recommended. During this procedure, an orthopedic surgeon will place pins, screws, or plates so as to ensure that the bone is adequately supported throughout the healing process. More often than not, internal fixation is used to treat stress fractures of the ankle.
How Long Does it Take for Stress Fractures to Heal?
It typically takes between six and eight weeks for stress fractures to heal completely. During this time, it is important that injured workers avoid the activities that caused their injuries, to begin with. If the pain is persisting, the bone is still fragile in that area.
Re-injuries are extremely common. It’s important for workers to consult their doctors prior to returning to their jobs.
Can Workers Suffering From Stress Fractures Receive Benefits?
The workers compensation insurance program was put into place to offer financial protection to workers who have been injured on the job. When construction workers have wound up with severe stress fractures that have left them unable to work, they may be able to receive workers compensation benefits. This is especially true if their employers are unable to place them in another less intensive position.
Do Workers Need to Hire Lawyers to Get Benefits?
Injured workers are not technically required to hire lawyers to help them file their claims but many choose to do so. While most workers who are suffering from stress fractures that have been caused directly by their jobs, it is not uncommon for their workers compensation claims to be denied. When this happens, it’s always a good idea to hire a lawyer to assist with filing an appeal.
A lawyer can help with everything from ensuring that all paperwork is filled out correctly to arranging expert witnesses for appeal hearings. That legal representation can be extremely helpful when it comes to ensuring the best possible results.
Will the Injury Eventually Heal?
If diagnosed quickly and treated properly, stress fractures will generally heal up fine. However, the ability to rest the area and avoid re-injury during the healing process is key. That’s why it’s always a good idea to stop work and file a claim for workers compensation benefits instead of risking more damage.
The Bottom Line
Stress fractures can be extremely painful. They can also grow worse over time if left untreated. Injured workers whose insurance claims have been denied should contact a lawyer who can help as soon as possible so that they can get the benefits they need to facilitate a quick and easy recovery.