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What Are Hairline Fractures?

A cast may be used to treat a hairline fracture.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Nancy Fann-Im
  • Last Modified Date: 09 September 2014
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    Conjecture Corporation
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Hairline fractures are small flaws in a patient's bones that may show up as thin lines or missing chips of bone on medical imaging studies. This is an example of an incomplete fracture, as it does not penetrate the bone. The most common cause is stress, with athletes being especially prone to hairline fractures because they work their musculoskeletal systems very hard in training and competition. There are some techniques people can use to reduce their risks, and treatment options are available.

In a hairline fracture, the patient may experience generalized pain and soreness. Stiffness is common, and the patient should still have full sensation in the area. A doctor can conduct an interview and physical examination and may be able to diagnose the fracture without an imaging study. If there is any doubt, the doctor can request x-rays, MRIs, and other imaging techniques. Sometimes a hairline fracture does not show up because it is so small, and the doctor needs to consider this when evaluating the results of the imaging study.

Rest is the most critical part of treatment for a hairline fracture, to allow the bone to repair itself. A doctor may recommend casting or bracing in some cases, to keep the bones stable and provide them with support while they heal. The patient also needs to eat a nutritious diet to promote healthy bone growth. It may be possible to speed healing with gentle physical therapy to promote circulation and build muscle strength in the area.

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Hairline fractures are common in athletes, especially runners and participants in impact sports, because they stress their bones regularly. Training slowly over time to build up resistance to stress is important. Exercises to develop muscles and bone will help athletes compensate for stress on their bones during training and competition. It is also advisable to eat well during periods of high athletic activity, as bones rely heavily on dietary intake of vitamins and minerals to stay healthy.

Athletes can work with their trainers to address concerns about hairline fractures and work on preventing this common sports injury. Members of the general population can be at risk, depending on their activity levels and occupations. The same steps athletes use can be helpful for other people as well. Simple measures like using yoga to build strength and flexibility can greatly reduce the risk of hairline fractures by supporting the bones and building a strong network of tendons and muscles to absorb and resist physical stress.

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