You Can Head Off Stress Fractures
Whether you're an avid basketball player or a weekend hiker, you may be at risk for
a stress fracture if you overdo it.
A stress fracture occurs when you increase the length or intensity of your workout
too quickly. Your muscles become so tired by the extra work that they transfer the
stress to the bones — most often in the lower leg — and a tiny crack appears. A stress
fracture can also happen when you workout on a different surface or use the wrong
equipment for you, says the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS).
With proper rest, your bones have the time they need to repair any tiny fractures
or grow stronger so they can take the wear and tear of an activity.
Doing too much too soon is a big mistake. In other words, it's very important to have
realistic expectations for your body.
Be sure to check with your healthcare provider before beginning a fitness program.
Once you get the OK, don't try to run 10 miles or join a football team if channel
surfing has been your main activity for years. Start out slowly, and increase your
level of activity gradually.
Building up slowly is also important to let your bones get used to the type of surface
where you exercise. If you walk or run, for instance, start on flat and soft surfaces.
Dirt paths tend to be better than asphalt, and asphalt can be better than concrete.
Invest in athletic shoes that provide good cushioning and support for the arches of
your feet. Replace your shoes when they show signs of wear. Try to shop at stores
that can offer guidance for your specific needs. Alternating your exercise program,
or cross training with low impact activities can reduce the risk of a stress fracture.
Women seem to develop stress fractures more often than men, the AAOS says. That may
be because women are more likely to have eating disorders and osteoporosis. As a woman's
bone mass reduces, the chances of getting a stress fracture increase. Make sure your
diet provides enough calcium and vitamin D for strong bones.
If you're in pain the minute you start walking or running and the pain doesn't quiet
down when you stop or after icing, it's time to get help. Your healthcare provider
can come up with a diagnosis and treatment to put you back on track. The most important
treatment is rest. Most stress fractures take 2 to 4 weeks to heal with reduced activity
and protective footwear. In some instances, certain bones may take up to 8 weeks to
heal, depending on your situation.