A foot stress fracture is often caused by high-impact activities and overtraining. It may be very painful, especially during weight-bearing activities. Therefore, swimming, cycling and other low-impact activities may be better alternatives to maintain your fitness level while the stress fracture heals. Consult your orthopedist before starting an exercise program.
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Swimming is an excellent low-impact or non-weight-bearing cardio exercise. It helps maintain cardiorespiratory fitness and strengthens the muscles of the arms, core and hips. However, the resistance of the water during kicking may cause pressure and pain at the fracture site on the foot, depending on the location of the fracture. Immediately stop swimming if you have pain, and consult your doctor.
Exercises normally performed on land may be performed in the water because the buoyancy reduces some of the weight on the foot. Water exercises may include knee extension and flexion, hip abduction and extension, and squats. Deep water running is another water exercise that provides a cardio workout as well as an excellent low-impact alternative to running when dealing with a foot stress fracture, according to the Journal of Physiological Anthropology. In deep water running, you wear a foam belt and perform the running motion in the deep end of a pool.
Cycling on a stationary bike is a non-weight-bearing exercise that provides a cardio workout and strengthens the legs, especially the quadriceps or thigh muscles. Due to the pressure on the foot during pedaling, wear a walking boot to reduce the strain on the foot. Initially, you may use a low to moderate resistance level to prevent further injury or pain.
If cycling and other cardio activities are painful, the arm ergometer may be the best alternative. While in a seated position, you pedal or cycle with your arms on the arm ergometer machine. This exercise eliminates any possible stress on the fractured foot. You can find arm ergometers at some fitness centers and most physical therapy clinics.
Seated Resistance Exercises
Seated resistance exercises may help maintain strength and prevent muscle atrophy. Resistance machines provide safe positions with comfortable one-plane movements. On the other hand, free weights and pulley machines may help as well when used with a chair, bench or exercise ball. Some examples of seated resistance exercises are knee extension, knee flexion, chest press and low row.
- American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: Stress Fracture of Foot and Ankle; July 2009
- American Family Physician: Common Stress Fractures; Brent W. Sanderlin, LCDR, MC, USNR, et al.; October 15, 2003
- Journal of Physiological Anthropology: Lower Extremity Muscle Activity during Different Types and Speeds of Underwater Movement; Koichi Kaneda, et al.; 2007