Recently Manteo Mitchell (USA) an Olympic athlete finished a 4x400m relay with a stress fracture. He said he really doesn’t know when it started but he knew it when he was running-read more.
I have a lot of athletes who come in with pain from training. Most don’t recall a specific event that started the pain, one day it starts gradually affecting their activity. A lot of people function pretty well with a stress fracture because it really doesn’t interfere with daily activities. The concern is that if you keep exercising through the pain a catastrophic fracture may occur.
Types of Stress Fractures
Most stress fractures are in the lower leg or tibia, called shin splints. We also see stress fractures in the feet. Occasionally stress fractures will occur in the hip or femur bones. There may be a vague pain at first that gets more intense the longer you put weight on the injured part. Another type of stress fracture seen in more mature patients is a “fragility” fracture. This can be related to osteopenia or osteoporosis which is a thinning of the bones which occurs as we mature.
Your physician may diagnose your fracture with x-rays or an MRI . Usually it will take several weeks or months to completely heal your stress fracture. You do not always have to stop your activities if a stress fracture is caught early enough. Often reworking your program to allow more recovery time will keep the stress below the threshold of pain. You may also be able to switch to another lower impact exercise such as cycling or swimming to keep up your cardio-workout with minimal risk to your stress fracture.
Prevention is Key!
Preventing stress fractures is the key to staying in your game! A well thought out training program is the best prevention. Not everyone can go out and start running or Zoomba on their body overnight. A gradual increase in your activity is best. I like to recommend the 10% rule. Start at a low distance or time and increase this by 10% each week and pause if you reach a point where there is discomfort that does not resolve by the day after your activity. Here are some other tips to help prevent stress fractures:
- When participating in any new sports activity, set incremental goals. For example, do not immediately set out to run five miles a day; instead, gradually build up your mileage on a weekly basis.
- Cross-training — alternating activities that accomplish the same fitness goals — can help to prevent injuries like stress fractures. Instead of running every day to meet cardiovascular goals, run on even days and bike on odd days. Add some strength training and flexibility exercises to the mix for the most benefit.
- Maintain a healthy diet. Make sure you incorporate calcium- and Vitamin D-rich foods in your meals.
- Use the proper equipment. Do not wear old or worn running shoes.
- If pain or swelling occurs, immediately stop the activity and rest for a few days. If continued pain persists, see an orthopaedic surgeon.
It is important to remember that if you recognize the symptoms early and treat them appropriately, you can return to sports at your normal playing level! What are your experiences with stress fractures? If you have a comment or question let me know.