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Stress fractures in athletes. How to spot this underdiagnosed injury.

Stress fractures are an increasingly common injury in competitive athletes, especially runners. Amenorrheic athletes are at particularly high risk. A radionuclide bone scan should be considered when the index of suspicion for stress fracture is high. Plain radiographs are of little use in establishing the diagnosis in the early stages of the injury. Early diagnosis and prompt institution of conservative therapy allow for a favorable outcome in most cases. Avoidance of or reduced participation in the inciting activity is important for pain control. Certain stress fractures, such as those involving the femoral neck, should be monitored closely and treated aggressively with internal fixation when conservative measures fail. Runners who have exercise-induced amenorrhea should be advised to decrease their training intensity to a level where menses resume. Cyclic therapy with conjugated estrogens and progesterone should also be considered, as should daily calcium supplementation.

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