Are you starting to notice annoying pains in your lower legs while running? Perhaps you’re a keen exerciser whose ambitious training regime is starting to cause swelling and pain in your feet? You may have stress fractures.
While stress fractures sound sinister, they’re very treatable when caught at an early stage. What’s more, they’re relatively common, with foot fractures and ankle fractures often affecting runners. To help you stay active and pain-free, we’ve put together a helpful guide to spotting, treating, and avoiding stress fractures.
What is a Stress Fracture?
Stress fractures are minuscule bone cracks that appear when people overuse certain body parts. For example, long-distance runners may experience stress fractures in the foot, hip, shin bone, or lower back when they train too vigorously or frequently. While repetitive motions represent a common cause of stress fractures, you may also develop these fractures due to bone-weakening conditions such as osteoporosis.
Symptoms of stress fractures are often mild at first, meaning patients avoid seeking help until the problem becomes more severe. Over time, a stress fracture can cause bone displacement and may require surgery. As such, you must seek medical help when any of the following symptoms appear:
- Pain that occurs during physical and does not go away during rest.
- Pain that occurs during physical and appears to go away during rest.
- Pain that gets worse when standing on one leg.
- Pain, tenderness, or swelling around a bone.
While most stress fractures occur in the lower legs, they can occur anywhere in the body.
What Causes a Stress Fracture?
Stress fractures can happen due to either environmental or internal factors, such as medical conditions. Environmental factors include:
- Failing to follow proper sporting techniques.
- Increasing your training schedule or intensity too fast.
- Exercising on unfamiliar surfaces, such as gravel or sand.
- Running on a sloped surface.
- Exercising without supportive footwear.
- Carrying out repetitive motions required in sports such as gymnastics, dance, basketball, running, tennis, or basketball.
- Not consuming enough calories to keep up with your training regime.
- Not days off to recover after training sessions.
- Not consuming enough vitamin D.
Internal factors related to stress fractures include:
- Having a body mass index (BMI) either above or below recommended levels. People on both ends of the spectrum may have weakened bones and be more prone to injury.
- Growing older. As we age, our bone density deteriorates, meaning we become more prone to issues like osteoporosis. As your bones start to weaken, stress fractures become more likely.
- Being female and not having regular menstrual periods.
- Foot problems such as tendonitis, bunions, blisters, or abnormal arches can put pressure on the tibia and hip bones.
- Medical conditions that may weaken the bones, such as osteoporosis.