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Stress Fractures

Stress Fractures - One of the most common injuries in sports is a stress fracture. Overcoming an injury like a stress fracture can be difficult, but it can be done.

What is a stress fracture? A stress fracture is an overuse injury. It occurs when muscles become fatigued and are unable to absorb added shock. Eventually, the fatigued muscle transfers the overload of stress to the bone causing a tiny crack called a stress fracture.

What causes a stress fracture? Stress fractures often are the result of increasing the amount or intensity of running too rapidly. They also can be caused by the impact of an unfamiliar surface (a runner who has switched surfaces from a dirt trail to a hard concrete sidewalk); improper equipment (a runner using worn or less flexible shoes); and increased physical stress (a substantial increase in the intensity and volume of training over several weeks to several months).

Are women more susceptible to stress fractures than men? Medical studies have shown that female athletes seem to experience more stress fractures than their male counterparts. Many orthopedic surgeons attribute this fact to a condition referred to as "the female athlete triad"-eating disorders (bulimia or anorexia), amenorrhea (infrequent menstrual cycle), and osteoporosis. As a female's bone mass decreases, the chances of getting a stress fracture increase.

Where do stress fractures occur? Most stress fractures occur in the weight bearing bones of the lower leg and the foot. More than 50 percent of all stress fractures occur in the lower leg.

What activities make runners most susceptible to stress fractures? Studies have shown that athletes participating in track and field are very susceptible to stress fractures. The repetitive stress of the foot striking the ground can cause trauma. Without sufficient rest between workouts or competitions, a runner risks developing a stress fracture.

How are stress fractures treated? The most important treatment is rest. Runners need to rest from running and engage in a pain-free activity during the six to eight weeks it takes most stress fractures to heal. If running is resumed too quickly, larger, harder-to-heal stress fractures can develop. Re injury also could lead to chronic problems where the stress fracture might never heal properly.

Below are some Tips for Preventing Stress Fractures

  • Slowly increase your mileage. For example, do not immediately start running five miles a day; instead gradually build up your mileage on a weekly basis. Running also can be done on alternate days. Try alternating the days you run on a weekly basis.
  • Maintain a healthy diet. Make sure you incorporate calcium-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 orthopedic surgeon.

It is important to remember that if you recognize the symptoms early and treat them appropriately, you can return to running at your normal level.