By Anthony R. Marino, MD
Stress fractures are tiny cracks in bone. Runner’s often have stress fractures in the weight bearing bones of their lower legs and feet. Stress fractures are serious running injuries that pose a significant long term limitation and require considerable time off.
The most common cause of stress fractures is overtraining. Over time your body will respond to the stress of your work-outs. If you increase the intensity, duration or frequency of running too quickly, your body cannot repair itself fast enough and a micro failure occurs. Generally stress fractures are not something that you can run through and a significant time off from running is recommended. You should not begin rehabilitation until after you have seen a professional and received a stress fracture diagnosis.
Avoiding all impact exercises is very important. Cross training by cycling, pool running and swimming is recommended. You should modify your activity if you feel pain. Pool running and swimming are some of the best exercises you can do.
Runners often find it hard to believe that you can keep your fitness at a very high level with cross training or pool running while you allow the stress fractures to heal. Elite athletes who have cross trained while taking extensive time off due to stress fractures have returned to pre-injury performance levels.
Return to Running
When you return to running, you must start very slowly. Then, you very gradually increase your mileage over a long period of time.
Eating disorders increase the risk of stress fractures. When young runners are diagnosed with stress fractures they should be evaluated for possible eating disorders and treated if they are found.