It’s a nagging pain that develops over time. Perhaps you don’t even notice it at first. Maybe you only feel it when you are active and since it goes away while you are resting, you decide not to do anything about it. But this pain will not disappear on its own.
We’re talking about stress fractures, and, although they may not seem serious, they can become that way – even leading to broken bones over time.
Stress fractures are defined as cracks in the bone, and they often are caused by overuse, such as overtraining or putting too much mechanical stress on a weight-bearing part of the body.
Jana Upshaw, M.D., a sports medicine physician with Winning Health, said that factors such as age, activity level and nutrition can lead to stress fractures as well. She mentioned that poor nutrition and the resulting inadequate calorie consumption, coupled with excess demands on the bones or energy output, can lead to an energy deficiency that contributes to the development of stress fractures.
“When there is too much demand on the bone and no opportunity for that bone to heal and repair, stress fractures can occur,” she stated.
Although Dr. Upshaw frequently sees stress fractures in legs and feet, she explained that they can occur in many other places in the body: “I have seen rowers get them in the ribs and gymnasts get them in their arms or wrists. They can really happen anywhere, but weight-bearing bones tend to be the most common places.”
To avoid stress fractures, she suggested that athletes gradually increase intensity instead of jumping right into a heavy training regimen. She also said athletes should use the correct equipment – good running shoes, for example.
“I tell runners to change their route from time to time as well. Change shoes every 400 miles or so and be sure to have at least one rest day in the week,” she pointed out.
Once you have developed a stress fracture, you might wonder if it’s something you will just have to live with.
“No. Stress fractures can heal,” she said, adding that you will must be willing to make some changes.
“Adequate rest is important, and a change in training will be necessary. Also, the athlete will have to start taking in sufficient calories and maintaining an adequate diet,” she said.
If the stress fracture continues to get worse, Dr. Upshaw warned that, depending on the severity and location, a cast or even surgery could be in order to completely fix the problem.
“The biggest challenge for many of my patients is when they hear that they have to rest or take time off to heal. Especially for my elite athletes – they don’t want to hear that, but it really is going to be the best thing they can do to heal the stress fracture,” she concluded.
For more information on Winning Health and Dr. Upshaw’s work in sports medicine, visit www.winninghealth.md.