In my many years of running, I have had 2 stress fractures. One in my tibia and one in my upper femur. Stress fractures are not uncommon in runners, and can be a real drag. Once diagnosed, one has to take 6-8 weeks off from running to let it heal. Runners don’t like not running. It makes us grumpy and miserable. (It is at this time that we usually discover the pool or the bike to get our exercise fix, and a few triathletes are born.)
As dreaded as stress fractures are, at least once the 6-8 weeks is over, the injury is healed. Then you can gradually start running again, and happiness returns to the runner.
Tibial stress fractures were recently addressed in a NY Times article, which is what got me thinking about stress fractures again. Although it has been over 10 years since my tibial stress fracture, I still fear them. So any tips on decreasing my, or my client’s, possibility of a stress fracture, grabs my attention.
First of all, the tibia is one of the 2 lower leg bones. In the article, tibial stress fracture prevention was focused on 2 possibilities: 1) strengthening the calves ( primarily found to help women) and 2) decreasing your stride length.
Strengthening the calves can be as easy as just adding some calf raises to your strength or stretching routine (I know you all have one). As the article states “…rising up on to your toes and sinking back to the floor 10 or 12 times every day, might be enough.” So , if you are a female runner, this might be something that you want to add into your daily routine.
The other suggestion is to reduce your stride length. Back when I was the Assistant XC and Track coach at Bowdoin, this was something that all the runners were taught. Head Coach Peter Slovenski had all his runner count their strides on a regular basis (I will call 1 stride every time your right or left foot – pick a foot – strikes the ground). The goal was 90 strikes or more per minute. ( You can also try for 30 or more strides per 20 sec – if you can’t focus for that full minute).
As Peter told me, he based this on work Jack Daniels, a respected running coach, had done. He noticed that in the Olympics the runners all had a stride rate of 90-110. So, these are the fast guy/gals – and they all had a short fast stride.
As the article states “The researchers determined that reducing stride length by about 10 percent seemed to reduce the stress on the tibia enough to lower the risk of a stress fracture. “ So, I am guessing that by counting your foot strikes and trying to increase them, one is on their way to decreasing their stride length by 10%.
Certainly more can be said about stress fractures, but in general they are an injury to respect. They are usually first identified as a very specific area of pain found when pushing down on the bone. You will feel it when you run, and can be so painful that it alters your stride, or even so that you just can’t put any weight on the bone. Have it checked out ASAP. And a reminder – the tibia is only one bone where you can get a stress fracture. The femur, the bones of the foot, and the spine are other examples of areas where stress fractures can occur – and not only with runners.
With all this said, I hope none of you ever have to suffer from a stress fracture ever – or ever again.