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Saturday, February 16, 2019

Fifth Metatarsal Fracture Post Sprain: Email Advice

Hi Dr. Blake,

My mom, a long time supporter of yours, sent me your blog after I learned last week that I fractured my 5th metatarsal on my left foot. For a quick background, I am a 30 y/o female. I have not exercised regularly since October thanks to grad school applications, but otherwise lead an active lifestyle; until recently, public transport and walking were major components of my daily life.

I fractured my foot one month ago...walking down the staircase. It was that simple. I've sprained my right ankle many times and the situation felt very similar to previous falls but my actual foot took the brunt of the fall, and my ankle remained unscathed. After ~48 hours of being unable to bear weight, I visited two NPs, one at a general immediate care facility and one at ortho-specific immediate care. Both took xrays, and both confirmed no fracture. Ortho NP put me in a walking boot and said I should be fine in 2 weeks. I did have some pain initially bearing weight in the boot but it was an otherwise overnight transformation: my swelling went down immediately and I was able to bear weight w/o the boot (though limping) pain free the next morning. I thought I would back to normal in no time!
Dr. Blake's comment: This is always a dilemma since it can take up to a month for a small stress fracture to show up on x-ray. It will be hot on a bone scan and MRI in a few days, but these are more expensive tests and not used in the screening process.

Three weeks went by, however, and my healing had plateaued. I made it into a podiatrist one week ago who ordered new xrays (weight bearing this time) and immediately found the fracture. His diagnosis was "5th metatarsal base fracture" but I never recall him mentioning "Jones." He told me that I'll need to be in boot 6-8 more weeks and my injury was a bit tricky because the specific area receives little bloody supply.
Dr. Blake's comment: This is the area of a Jones fracture just in front (towards the toes) of where the 4th and 5th metatarsals join together.

Told me to stay off my feet as much as possible and make some lifestyle modifications (note to work from home as much as I need) but never mentioned complete non-weight bearing nor suggested anything like crutches. Wasn't super interested in the prospect of surgery and said the next step will be a bone simulator if it comes to that. Follow up apt in 3 weeks.
Dr. Blake's comment: Many insurance companies require 3 months of treatment for fractures before they approve a bone stimulator, however the doctor should start the process on Jones fractures, sesamoid fractures, and navicular fractures, since they are the slowest to heal and surgery potential is high.

Of course, I googled 5th metatarsal fractures and immediately Jones fractures met his description of my injury, but the standard treatment (NWB for at least 6 weeks) was a different than his. I am now working from home 2-3 days a week, Ubering to work (as opposed to metro), getting groceries delivered, etc. Prior to my diagnosis, I was much less conservative and was actually walking up to as much as 2 miles some days of the week (it's so hard not to do this living in a city) in my boot.
Dr. Blake's comment: There is a protocol for Jones of non weight bearing for sure. You can have someone non weight bearing in a boot by floating the fifth metatarsal with adhesive felt padding. Therefore they can walk, and still off load the bone. The secret is creating 0-2 pain level for healing, and what it requires to accomplish that. If it is a Jones fracture, we definitely off weight for a while, but we want the weight bearing for bone mineralization and swelling reduction. It is a fine line. Maybe he does not think it is unstable, which is how it sounds, if it was only picked up on the 3rd set of xrays. Maybe there is no gap, just changes in the bone reflecting healing. If you can take a photo, and email mail of the xray images, I can let you know what I think.

You aren't able to view my xrays or examine me, so I know your insights are limited. Still, I am wondering if my doc's treatment plan sounds potentially reasonable assuming a Jones' fracture or if I need to second guess him and go down a far more conservative route and eliminate all weight bearing. I've read a few academic journals and the consensus about treatments seem to be...all over the place. For what it's worth, my symptoms are probably improving, at least in terms of swelling and bruising, and certainly not deteriorating. Some days I am a little more tender and swollen than others, but compression socks and a session with frozen vegetables always do the trick and get me back to my "baseline." I'm not taking any pain meds (especially not NSAIDs) nor am I a smoker. Taking calcium, D3, and magnesium supplements and trying to up my calorie intake. I also assume that, in terms of WB, it can't hurt that I weigh less than 110 lbs. 

Any insight you have would be so appreciated.

Dr. Blake's comment: Send me the images, have the doctor float the bone in the boot, use crutches with the boot if you can not achieve 0-2 pain level. Start doing contrast bathing twice daily to flush out pain from the swelling. This is a must since you want to make decisions on the fracture pain, not on the pain from swelling. Push for the bone stimulator process to begin, even if you do not need it in the end.

Since I had been on vacation, she tried to contact me again:

Hi again Dr. Blake,

I got a hold of my medical chart online so I have a few more pieces of info. My diagnosis on the chart is "L 5th metatarsal styloid process fracture" and he also noted that it is nondisplaced. From my understanding (which could be completely flawed), styloid fractures fall in the same group as zone1/tuberosity/avulsion/pseudo Jones fractures, aka the GOOD type of fracture to have. I'm wondering why, then, he said I was dealing a stubborn fracture that receives little blood flow and there is a chance I could have delayed or nonunion--these seem like hallmark Jones characteristics.

Dr. Blake's comment: Yes, that is good news and the styloid process fractures tend to heal just fine. Still, take a photo and send. You can ask the office to take a photo of each of the xrays and email to you. Maybe they will do it.

Then the patient responded with good news!!

Thanks so much for your reply on your blog! I decided to just call my podiatrist and I have good news: I do NOT have a Jones fracture. It didn't occur at the very base of the 5th metatarsal, but it was not distal enough to be a Jones fracture; therefore it is still in zone 1 and he confirmed that it's still receiving adequate blood supply. He told me that if it had been a Jones fracture, he would have put me in a hard cast and would not have let me leave his office without crutches. 

Here's what's interesting: he said it was not an avulsion fracture, either (or a pseudo Jones). I've been hard pressed to find any online sources that do not classify styloid process fractures (my official diagnosis) as avulsion fractures, but I suppose that was not the mechanism of action that caused the injury. I'll ask him to clarify this on Friday during my follow up. I am also curious to hear more about his mentioning of poor blood supply. I suppose he meant that feet in general receive less blood supply compared to the rest of the body. His treatment plan (8-12 weeks in walking boot) also seems to be more aggressive than those of other avulsion fractures (or anything in zone 1), but I read in one of your earlier posts that you think these types of fractures tend to be undertreated; perhaps his philosophy aligns with yours.

In any event, I hit the 6 week mark last week, and since then, my foot has started to feel much better. Best way I can describe it is that it feels more like a regular foot that can do its job again. I feel like I could walk more normally on it when my cast is off (he gave me permission to do a little walking around my apartment w/o the cast so long as I concentrated my weight in my heal) but I'll wait until my appointment before I get clearance. To the naked untrained eye, it does not look like my foot is injured. However, if you look closely, I have a bump where the fracture is. I am not sure if that is the callus and/or residual inflammation.  

The only thing bothering me now is my walking boot, whose front straps occasionally press against the area of the fracture and cause tenderness (just depends on the day). He said that had he come to me first, he would have put me a different type of walking cast with air pockets, so maybe that one would be a bit better. Also, the muscle atrophy, which is all the way up my thigh, is pretty bad, and my pants are baggier. I'm starting to do some NWB floor exercises, and will probably ask for a physical therapy order.

I will ask for both sets of x-rays next visit and will be sure to share. As for the old ones, I took them sitting down on a large x-ray table. My x-rays at his office were taken in a completely different manner (standing up, bearing weight) which he explained was key. I gave him my old x-rays but they were taken at awkward angles and were incompatible with his computer.

My own images are attached. Don't be alarmed by the fact that my right ankle is bigger than left--that's old scar tissue from a previous injury. 

If you end up sharing this on your blog, feel feel to abbreviate for brevity :)

Thanks again,

1 comment:

  1. In cases where a bone stimulator is indicated but insurance won't cover it or the patient does not want to wait 3 months to begin, the can affordably rent or purchase an Exogen system with a warranty from


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