Although it’s usually so small that it can’t be detected with conventional x-rays, a stress fracture is a very real crack in a bone. Most stress fractures occur in the tibia or fibula (lower-leg bones), the metatarsal or navicular bones of the foot, or the heel. The fracture develops over a period of days or weeks; at first, it causes only mild discomfort, but then it becomes increasingly painful, especially during vigorous athletic activity.
A stress fracture can result from overuse, especially in people who participate in high-impact, repetitive-motion sports like basketball, tennis or gymnastics. Track and field athletes are particularly vulnerable, putting cross-country runners at greater-than-average risk. When muscles become too fatigued to absorb impact properly, they can transfer the physical stress to the bones, which literally crack under pressure.
But there is a lot you can do to help avoid stress fractures:
• Wear good-quality footgear that is not old or worn-down. A good general rule is about 400–600 miles maximum for a pair of running shoes.
• Don’t suddenly increase training time, distance, speed or intensity. Try gradual increases of 10% a week at most.
• Listen to your body and take adequate rest periods.
• Alternate high-impact sports with lower-impact sports such as cycling or swimming.
• Be especially careful if you switch sports surfaces (from clay to hard court in tennis, for instance, or from an indoor to outdoor running track). Build adjustment time into your training regimen.
Should you develop a stress fracture, treat it with great care for the six to eight weeks it usually takes to heal. Rest is essential; don’t continue the sport that caused the injury until you get a go-ahead from a physician. Putting too much weight on the fracture can cause a more severe injury that might never heal properly. If your physician or therapist recommends a cast or crutches, use them for the best possible outcome.
While you heal, you may be able to swim, bike or water-run to stay fit. We can help you develop an appropriate fitness plan during your recovery period.