How to Effectively Treat Your Stress Fracture
How to effectively treat your stress fracture is another conversation in our on going dialogue on how to treat running related injuries. Welcome back. Last time you learned how to recognize shin splints and avoid shin splints pain.
You specifically learned that aging footwear and training error, including a rapid increase in running distance and intensity, plus inadequate time for stressed muscles to recover can be the reason for you getting shin splints.
You also discovered a surprisingly simple trick for keeping your shin splints healthy. What you did was to use your understanding of cross-training—alternating between 2 or more sports to stay fit— to address the over use of tired muscles that may be causing your shin splints pain. You discovered, for example, that you could substitute your land running with deep water running or cycling.
In addition, you learned 4 exercises that can keep your shin splints in good condition. They are:
- Single-Leg Balance
- Stair Case Stretch
- Seated Stretch
- Toe Yoga
Now this time you’re going to learn what to do if your symptoms initially appear to be shin splints, but over time the pain increases and is present while walking and even at rest. You may have a stress fracture which is a is a bone that breaks over a period of time following some type of micro trauma.
How to Tap into Your Knowledge of Cross-Training to Better Understand Stress Fracture
If you followed the information in the last post, then by this time you should have an understanding of how cross-training would help you get better if your problem was only shin splints. Consider this account of a 29-year old female marathoner who was also a hiker, road cyclist, and swimmer. You could imagine her as a competitive runner, for instance, run in place in water and swim to stay fit while nursing her shin splints. However, she notes that her cross-training didn’t work.
Lessons of a Marathoner
“I took the next day off from exercise, but after a 20-minute trail run the following day, the flats were uncomfortable and the downhills were excruciating, causing me to cut the run short. Road biking hurt the next day, and after another day off I went swimming–it hurt to kick.” 
The account shows that something more than shin splints may be happening because the traditional strategy of alternating activities to rest stressed muscles, thus reducing the pain of shin splints, wasn’t working.
It turned out that our marathon runner had developed a stress fracture after a 47-mile run.
So at this point, your next step is to to address the cause of the stress fracture. What can you do to prevent this from reoccurring? It may be that you have over-trained, increasing mileage too quickly. You need to go back and look at your training log to figure out where the increase in mileage took place and readjust for the next season.
However, you need to be careful at this point. That’s because sometimes our body told us long before an injury happened that something was wrong and we just didn’t listen.
My Experience With Ankle Pain
I’m speaking from experience here. One time I was doing a long distance drill and I planted my foot unevenly on a grassy hill. I made the mistake of continuing to run even though my left ankle started to act up. Next thing I knew, I felt a wave of excruciating pain that forced me to almost hop back home. I had sprained my ankle. And in order to relieve my pain , I ended up resting, doing some rehab work, and giving up the rest of track season. I didn’t listen to my body. Trust me, you don’t want to make this mistake.
As I said, the best way to treat a stress fracture while keeping it from reoccurring is to to go back and look at your training log to figure out where the increase in mileage took place and readjust it as you heal. Specifically, you’ll want to follow these steps:
•Step 1: [ Don’t be Your own Doctor] Think of when you first got that pain in your left shin, and all the icing and massaging didn’t really help. Giving your muscles a break by trying different activities didn’t help either. If you think you may have a stress fracture, consult an orthopedist. As one sports doctor notes, “Even after localized tenderness ceases, you still need another four weeks before a return to running. It typically takes eight to 12 weeks for a tibial stress fracture to heal enough for three 3-mile runs a week.”[ 2]
•Step 2: [Ignore The Impulse to Get Back to Your Running]. You need to make the commitment even before working with your orthopedist to stay off your feet until you are pain-free with routine activities. Like it or not you may need to use crutches.
•Step 3: [Follow A Careful Rehab Guide Back To Health]. Now that you have a professional to help you, you can follow a regiment that will gradually get you to running back on land. Elliptical training, deep water running, cross-country skiing, and foam roller workouts can be part of your routine.
•You may also want someone to study your gait. Poor running style contributes to injury. While it may not be possible for you to observe your running form, you can ask another runner, better yet a coach, to provide feedback. For example, you need to make sure that your elbows are slightly bent, and the arms do not swing above the shoulder blades or cross the midline.
And there you have it – a quick and easy way to understand how to treat shin splints. However, you still have to do one more thing: You need to understand how low body mass (BMI) can lengthen healing time. And that’s exactly what you’ll learn next time. So, stay tuned. I like to hear from the readers so please leave me a comment below to let me know if this post helped you or if you have any questions.
Running & FitNews. 24.3 (September-October 2006): p14.