Stress fractures can be a major setback for runners, causing pain and preventing them from running for months. Although blisters and chafing are common annoyances for runners, stress fractures are a more serious injury. But what exactly is a stress fracture, and how can runners prevent them?
A stress fracture is a tiny crack or breaks in a bone that is typically caused by repetitive force or overuse, rather than a single traumatic event like a fall. Runners are particularly susceptible to this type of injury, particularly in the lower limbs, with the tibia being the most commonly affected bone. According to Dr. Matthew Oliver, a trauma and orthopedic surgeon at Benenden Hospital, Kent, “Stress fractures occur 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.”
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To avoid stress fractures, runners should gradually increase their mileage, take rest days, and listen to their bodies. Overuse, insufficient recovery time, low bone density, poor nutrition, changes in running surfaces, and improper footwear or running form can all contribute to the development of stress fractures.
Recovery time for stress fractures varies, with healing taking anywhere from six to eight weeks. However, it’s important for runners to continue exercising if possible, following a specific exercise program created by a sports doctor or physio to maintain cardiovascular fitness. Low-impact activities like cycling or swimming are recommended, but it’s best to consult with a doctor to determine which exercises are safe while recovering.
To prevent stress fractures, experts recommend increasing exercise slowly and planning training programs in advance. It’s also important to get a thorough assessment of running technique from a physio, who can identify any biomechanical flaws that could lead to stress fractures. Varying running surfaces and setting realistic distance and speed targets are other measures that can help prevent stress fractures.
By following these expert tips, runners can reduce their risk of developing stress fractures and continue exercising safely.