A stress fracture is a partial or complete crack in the outer layer of the bone that results from repetitive stress like running. For runners, the common sites for stress fractures include the tibia (shinbone), the metatarsal bones (in the foot), the calcaneus (heel bone), the femur (thigh bone), the navicular bone (in the foot), the fibula (lower lateral leg bone) and sometimes the pelvis and sacrum. The pain is typically very localized to a specific bony area, which is very sensitive when pressed or tapped. Stress fractures do not always show up on a routine X-ray, and therefore, a bone scan or MRI is typically needed to make a true diagnosis.
Causes: Training errors — such as abrupt changes in training, mileage, intensity, duration or equipment — are probably the most common causes of stress fractures. Biomechanical faults — such as excessive pronation, high-arched feet or flexible flat feet — can also contribute to the development of a stress fracture. In addition, low bone-mineral density, lack of adequate muscle strength and genetics can play a role.
Solution: The only true solution for a stress fracture is rest. A stress fracture will typically take six to eight weeks to heal, and during this time, you may be allowed some weight bearing on the affected leg. But generally, you will be restricted from serious weight-bearing activities. Your physician may also suggest that you begin to take calcium supplements to help strengthen your bones. In addition, you should avoid drinking diet soft drinks and eating a high-protein diet, both of which can inhibit the body's ability to absorb calcium. During the healing process, non-weight-bearing cross-training activities (such as swimming or water running) can help you maintain your cardiovascular fitness level.
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