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Running and Stress Fractures: This is No Time to Run Through the Pain

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Bones & Joints related image Photo: Getty Images

Running brings to its followers so many things: bliss, a fit body, feelings of euphoria, freedom, a sense of accomplishment, a reason to buy that cool pair of running shoes, and, for many, injuries, such as a stress fracture. Unlike an acute fracture that happens suddenly when you slip or fall, a stress fracture develops over a period of time as a result of repeated strain on a bone. The most common areas affected by runners include the shin bone, the feet, and the heels. Stress fractures are actually one of the most serious of all running injuries.

Those who are primarily at risk for this type of injury are the ones who over-train. After each workout, our bones need time to rebuild. If you suddenly increase your mileage, intensity, or frequency of your running workouts, your bones cannot keep up with the repair work to maintain their strength and vitality.

Women typically sustain more stress fractures than men, primarily because of low estrogen levels, certain nutritional deficits, or inadequate calorie intake. Fortunately, for those runners who have been running for years, they have the benefit of time on their side. The longer you have been running, the less likely you are to experience a stress fracture.

Now, there are those die-hard runners like myself who would much rather run through an injury or pain, no matter how intense, because I just cannot fathom a day without putting on my running shoes and heading out for 60 minutes of peace and quiet, just me, the road, and my thoughts. However, running through a stress fracture is not recommended. In fact, taking eight to 16 weeks off from running when dealing with this type of injury should be expected. The bones that carry the most weight, like the ones in the foot, take longer to heal than those in the shin. Further, if you ran through the pain for an appreciable amount of time without realizing you even had a stress fracture, you could expect a much longer recovery time. During your recovery time, it is generally advised to avoid any impact exercises. Instead, opt to swim laps in the pool or even run in the pool. This is actually a great workout, and is much more challenging than I initially expected. You would be surprised how strong it makes you and how it will really keep you in shape!

Listening to your body is your best indicator of when to begin running again. If you can walk without any pain, aim for a short jog. If you notice any pain, back off. You cannot expect to just jump right back in to running six miles a day, six days a week. Gradually build up your mileage and time. One of the best indicators that you are healed is if you can run pain free for an entire running session and have no lingering pain afterward, especially if you have already been on your feet all day.

As a runner, some of the best ways to improve the density of your bones is to incorporate weight training into your schedule and to make sure you are getting enough calories and essential nutrients. Be sure to keep running, too, when you are healthy and pain-free. Remember! The longer you are a runner, the less likely you will get an injury like this. Wouldn’t it be great to still be running at age 90? I plan to do so! The only stress I experience is when I cannot run, so I do all I can to make sure I remain healthy and well.

Source: Runner's World Magazine, March, 2011

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.