What You Should Know About Stress Fractures

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During the summer, most of us are eager to take advantage of the nice weather and get out for a run.  But before you lace up your shoes, it’s important to prepare your body to prevent running related injuries. One particular injury I’d like to focus on here is stress fractures.
Stress fractures are a very common injury (especially in runners), accounting for 20% of all sports medicine injuries and as much as 30% of all injuries in running sports. A stress fracture is a small crack in one of your bones and is caused by overuse and repetitive activity. They occur when repetitive forces lead to small microscopic damage to the bone and supporting soft tissue. Not giving these structures enough time to heal between exercise bouts can be another cause.

What increases your risk of developing a stress fracture?

Most studies of stress injuries state that a rapid change in a training program is the most significant factor that may lead to a stress fracture. For example, if you suddenly increase your mileage, pace, volume, or cross-training activity without allowing enough time for your body and bones to adapt to the change. A hard or cambered training surface, worn out shoes, improper technique, and bone deficiency can also increase your risk.

How can you reduce your risk of developing a stress fracture?

Knowing this, any modifications to the above variables can help reduce your risk of developing a stress fracture.
If you are currently active or want to start activity, slowly ease into any training regimen. Gradually increase your time, speed, and distance. A study suggests that there is an increased injury rate with increasing distance beyond 20 miles a week. It’s also beneficial to cross-train with other activities. Mixing up your workouts will give muscles and bones that were stressed yesterday a chance to recover while still being active. For instance, you can go for a long run one day (high impact) and the next day jump in the pool and swim (low impact).
Increasing strength to supporting muscles and bones can also decrease chances of injury. Doing strength training can increase muscle strength and stability, providing a protection to underlying bones by absorbing impactful forces. Multiple studies have shown that weight training can slow the rate of bone density loss.
Lastly, make sure you set yourself up for success by having on the proper equipment for all your workouts. Be sure your shoes fit comfortably and provide enough support without restricting movement. It’s more beneficial if the shoes your wearing were made for that particular activity (i.e., running shoes, lifting shoes, tennis shoes).
If you are going to start a new activity or increase the intensity of an existing workout make sure you check out our previous blog post on a proper warm-up and a PT’s take on running with or without shoes.