Posted by: Joe English | January 20, 2012

Training — Understanding Stress Fractures

running-advice-bugA friend of mine is recovering from a stress fracture in her heel. In her case, the stress fracture was caused by training too much in minimalist shoes too quickly. I shared some thoughts about stress fractures and methods of recovery with her that I thought you might find helpful as well. The “glass and hammer” analogy below is a good one to keep in mind when thinking about stress fractures. It is also important to realize that stress fractures are actually little cracks in the bone. If you continue to beat on them, they can turn into actual breaks in the bone (fractures). Just like “breaking your leg” when you were a kid, once you’ve broken a bone in this manner, you’ll be in cast and may suffer permanent damage. So if you have inkling of a stress fracture developing, please take care to have it checked out.

Here’s what I had to say about stress fractures:

First off, let’s think about stress fractures themselves. Stress fractures are small cracks (fractures) that develop in bones due to force (or stress) that is being placed on a particular bone. One of the most important things in dealing with stress fractures is that we need to figure out the root cause of the stress fracture in order to make sure that it doesn’t come back again when you resume training. This may seem obvious, but too often people take the advice to “rest and recover” for 4-6 weeks or more and then resume training without an idea of what caused the injury in the first place. If the causation isn’t addressed, the problem is going to come back — and likely come back very quickly.

The second thing to keep in mind is that the stress fracture can be either a result of the stress being placed on the bone or the strength of the bone itself — or a combination of both. That’s where the “glass and hammer” analogy comes into play. Think about it this way: If you were to take a hammer and tap it on a piece of glass repeatedly, eventually the glass would crack. The cracks in this analogy are the stress fractures. What’s happening here is that the tapping cracks the glass (the bone), but this can be due to two different reasons. Was it a matter of 1) how hard you were hitting the glass or 2) how thick or thin the glass was in the first place. Both of these can be the culprit.

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  1. Coach Joe, I really like this post. A very competitive friend of mine had to deal with a stress fracture his senior year and it cost him a chance for a scholarship. He was running so well (best in state) before his stress fracture. I was wondering what you think about CEP compression socks? Would you be interesting in doing a review/trial? I work for a company who would supply socks to you and even to readers for giveaways. Please let me know. -dave

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