Don't be sidelined by stress fractures

An overzealous approach to exercise can bring even the best fitness program to a grinding halt. Stress fractures are often the result of an aggressive running program.

Stress fractures are best described as very small cracks in a bone, usually seen in the lower leg and foot. As opposed to a typical fracture that results from a single traumatic event, stress fractures result from repeated trauma. They are commonly seen in athletes such as runners, basketball players, and dancers who run and jump on hard surfaces.

Bone is a dynamic organ that is constantly weakening and growing. The rate at which more bone is produced is determined by weight-bearing activities and general health. Osteoporosis is a condition seen in individuals unable to bear weight on a bone and older people whose bone metabolism has slowed. It results in fragile bones that are more susceptible to fracture.

Stress fractures are rarely seen on routine X-rays and diagnosis often requires an MRI scan or bone scan.

“There is a delicate balance between bone metabolism and bone stress. Any factor that rapidly upsets this balance can result in stress fractures,” said Dr. John Giacchetto, an orthopedic surgeon in Norwich. As older people begin to participate in impact sports like running, the incidence of stress fractures has also risen.
Preventive measures include using proper footwear and trying to run on a softer surface. Dr. Giacchetto recommends an incremental approach beginning with walking before running.

Treatment of stress fractures often includes restricting activity and acetaminophen for pain. Vitamin D and calcium supplements should be considered.

Now that summer is drawing to an end, many people will be resuming or starting an exercise program. Consultation with a physician is advisable and gradually increasing intensity can avoid being sidelined.

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