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Stress fractures typically cause localized pain that you can put your finger on and know exactly where it hurts.
As a high school runner, I was consistently averaging 50 – 60 miles a week, but as I began my first collegiate running season, my average weekly mileage quickly increased to nearly 90 miles a week.
Halfway through the season, I began to feel a general shin splint pain. This pain became more focal in the middle of the shin as the weeks progressed. I could pinpoint the pain, but I continued to run. The day after the conference championships, my foot was put into a boot and I wasn’t allowed to run for eight weeks.
Stress fractures are common injuries for runners. The repetitive motion of running causes the bone cells to begin to break down. This repetitive stress leads to tiny cracks in the surface of the bone that cause inflammation and pain. The bone will continue to break down until the repetitive motion is stopped, and the bone is allowed time to heal.
Common stress fractures in runners:
Stress fracture symptoms:
X-rays are often used to identify stress fractures, but initially, the fracture may not be seen on x-ray. At OrthoCarolina, a stress fracture is often primarily diagnosed by the consistent history of pain progression and localized pain found with a physical exam. An X-ray may be used during a follow-up exam. If the X-ray shows a healing bone, the diagnosis is confirmed.
Stress fracture treatment:
A stress fracture can return if you don’t modify the factors that led to injury in the first place.
As a heel striker, I suffered a second stress fracture during my junior year. The stress fracture was in a different spot but was still a result of the same training problem. Post college, I worked on modifying my running form and adding in calf and shin muscle strengthening exercises. Since making these adjustments, I have enjoyed running injury-free.
Matt Dobler, PA-C, ATC is a Physician Assistant and former athletic trainer with OrthoCarolina Huntersville. He was a competitive cross country runner in college at UNC Charlotte.