Unlike acute fractures resulting from slips or falls, stress fractures develop as a result of cumulative strain on the bone.
They’re no picnic, though. In fact, they’re one of the most serious running injuries, striking runners most often in their tibias (shin), metatarsals (feet), or calcaneus bones (heels). Six per cent of Runner’s World survey respondents have been struck in the past year.
Are you at risk?
Are you overtraining? Give yourself an honest answer. Bones need downtime to rebuild after workouts and if you increase the duration, intensity or frequency of your running too soon, your bones can’t repair themselves fast enough.
Stress fractures are more common in women than men, usually because of nutritional deficits, low oestrogen levels and inadequate calorie intake. Luckily, weight-bearing exercise like running is actually protective, which means experience is on your side: “The longer you’ve been running, the lower your risk,” says Price.
Can you run through it?
In a word: no. Expect to have to take eight to 16 weeks o , depending on the location and severity of the fracture.
Bones in the foot heal slower than those in the shin, for example. Run through the pain and you’ll be spending some more time on the sofa, warns Merrill. Avoid all impact exercise – aqua run and swim instead.
Listen to your body. “Once you can walk without pain, try a bit of jogging,” says Price. “Back off if there’s lingering pain, and it’s crucial to build your mileage slowly – start with just a few minutes.”
Prevent a relapse
Improve bone density with weight training, and ensure you’re getting enough calories and nutrients. Also, running surfaces don’t seem to make a difference: “It makes sense that soft surfaces would be better for you than roads, but studies have not borne that out,” says Price.
Maintain your fitness by introducing aqua running to your training regime. “When US long-distance runner Deena Kastor broke a bone in her foot during the 2008 Olympic Marathon, she had to take six weeks off for recovery,” says Price. “Daily pool running kept her strong.”
How to proceed
Stop running: Pain builds as you run, but doesn’t stop when you stop. Just being on your feet is uncomfortable.
Run with caution: Sorry, there’s no middle ground here. With this one, it’s either red or green.
Go run: Pain-free during a run and no lingering pain after - even when you’ve been on your feet all day.