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How To Deal With A Stress Fracture

The steps you should take if you get the dreaded diagnosis.

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What’s worse than weaving in and out of runners during the first mile of a race? Or extreme soreness after a hard workout? The two words athletes never want to hear: stress fracture.

Most stress fractures happen because of the constant pounding on the pavement or change in training. A stress fracture is a small crack in the bone or bruising within the bone—and unfortunately, this type of injury can happen in runners. Symptoms might include:

  • Pain that diminishes during rest
  • Pain that occurs or intensifies during activities
  • Tenderness to touch at the site of the fracture
  • Bruising

However, you can survive this storm quick and painlessly by following these steps:

See a Doctor

First and foremost, go see your doctor. This will help you determine the severity of the fracture and your next steps. They can perform various tests and take an X-ray of the area to see what the best healing approach might be for you.

Do Your R.I.C.E.

You’ve probably heard this once, but here’s another reminder to rest, ice, compress and elevate.

Tweak Your Diet

According to the Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, athletes low in vitamin D run a higher risk of stress fractures because vitamin D increases bone density. Also, women are more prone to stress fractures because of menstruation—loss of calcium, iron and vitamin D. So ladies, make sure to get enough vitamin D, calcium and iron in your diet, especially if you’re injured. Take supplements if you’re not getting enough through natural foods. (It is always recommended to consult with your doctor before incorporating new supplements into your diet.)

Related: What Is The Female Athlete Triad?

Refrain From Running

This is a hard one, but you’ve got to lay off your running for awhile. If you want to work out, try low-impact activities that won’t cause pain. Swimming is an excellent alternative to running; it keeps your cardio up, while working other muscle groups. Of course, work with your doctor to see what appropriate exercise is for your particular injury.

Related: Cross-Training Options For Runners

Change Your Workout

It will usually take six to eight weeks to recover; everyone differs depending on how severe your injury is.  As mentioned above, stick to low-impact workouts: Swimming, cycling, rowing, light lifting. After getting clearance from your doctor to try any of these exercises in place of running, use your honest judgment and stop immediately if you feel any pain from the injury.

Here are some sample workouts to get you through a run-less day:

  1. Swimming: Warm up for 5 minutes (easy swim). Then swim 50-meter laps, freestyle, for 30 to 60 minutes. Cool down with a couple laps of an easy back stroke.
  2. Cycling: Hop into an indoor spin class at the gym or sign up for Peloton if you have a bike at home. Peloton allows you to join live spin class from the comfort of your home. Simply download the app on your tablet or computer and join. If you rather just ride on your own, warm up for 5 minutes, then do intervals. Try: 2 minutes at a steady pace, 1-minute climb (up the resistance), 30-second sprint (lower the resistance to reduce aches if you need to), and recover with a 2-minute steady pace. Repeat this circuit three to five times.
  3. Rowing: Row for 2 minutes, plank for 1 minute. Repeat this pattern for 20 minutes. You’ll increase your heart rate and keep your core engaged, which is important for runners to perform strong.

For a modified workout if you do not have a row machine: Grab a resistance band and wrap it around a pole, or tie it to a doorknob. Stand with feet hip-width apart, shoulders relaxed, knees slightly bent and stomach engaged. Pull the band toward your body, just below your chest. Your back will feel like it’s pinching a pencil together. Just like above, “row” for 2 minutes and plank for 1 minute. If standing bothers your injury, use a stability ball to sit on.

Note: Rowing is ideal toward the end of your stress-fracture recovery time.

Fara Rosenzweig is certified personal trainer with a love for yoga and running. When she’s not at the gym or outside logging the miles, she’s planning boot camp classes for friends.