Stress Fracture an Athletes Curse: May 23, 2013

It’s been described as the curse of athletes - the stress fracture.

“Stress fracture is a small crack that can occur over time by accumulating trauma. Usually overuse. Something we see much more common in runners or triathletes. It can be seen in basketball players but not quite as often,” says Dr. James Bynum, orthopedic surgeon on Lee Memorial Health System’s medical staff.

It occurs when muscles become fatigued and can’t absorb added shock. Eventually, the tired muscle transfers the overload of stress to the bone, causing a tiny crack.

“There will be pain or dull ache. Usually they’ll know they are developing it over time. But sometimes it can be pretty subtle. Sometimes it will just feel like a cramp or a bruise,” says Dr. Bynum.

Trouble spots are the weight-bearing bones of the lower leg and foot. It’s the foot strike that causes most of the trauma. Which is why it hits runners so hard.

“Because you can’t really feel what’s happening over a long period time,” says Kath Kinross, doctor of physical therapy on Lee Memorial Health System’s medical staff.

Research in sports medicine finds simple alterations in stride or increasing leg strength might reduce the risk of the most common type of stress fracture. Brushing up on the proper mechanics can also lower the stress level.

“Could be running with like this terrible long stride, landing on your heels and you wouldn’t realize that that was a problem. Until a long time down the road and it might be harder to fix,” says Kinross.

Proper rest between activities is the prevention and the cure. It takes 6-8 weeks for a stress fracture to heal.