Running and Stress Fractures

Stress fractures are a common injury among runners, whether they run marathons or run casually to stay fit.


Most runners try to prevent stress fractures since they can keep them off the running track for up to three months as the bone heals. Are there ways to avoid getting a stress fracture if you're a runner?

What are Stress Fractures?

Stress fractures are tiny breaks that occur in weight-bearing bones such as the shinbone or foot. They're caused by repeated stress and trauma to the bone - from high-intensity exercise or running. Bone constantly remodels itself by reabsorbing and laying down new bone. Too much repetitive trauma can overwhelm this repair process leading to a stress fracture.

Prevent Stress Fractures: What Causes Them?

Stress fractures most commonly occur when a runner runs too many miles too soon. This is why experts recommend not increasing running mileage by more than 10% per week. Stress fractures also occur more commonly in older people, women, children, people with osteoporosis and runners with small or weak calf muscles.

Running and Stress Fractures: How Can You Prevent Stress Fractures if You're a Runner?

Don't run too far too quickly. Gradually increase mileage over a period of weeks, and don't take long breaks from running since your risk will be higher once you start back. Another way to prevent stress fractures is to shorten the length of your running stride. This works by reducing the amount of time the body spends airborne, which causes the feet to hit the ground with less force.

It's a good idea to vary the surfaces you run on, and avoid running on very hard surfaces as much as possible. Check a vitamin D level and make sure you're getting enough "D" and calcium to maintain healthy bones. Replace your running shoes at least every 400 miles.

If you experience pain that gets worse as you run, see a doctor for an x-ray. Overuse injuries involving only soft tissue usually improve as you warm-up due to increased blood flow, but the pain of a stress fracture gets worse the longer you run. Never keep running with a stress fracture since it will prolong the healing time.

Running and Stress Fractures: The Bottom Line?

Enjoy the health benefits of running, but take steps to avoid a stress fracture that could side-line you for months.

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