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stress fracture

Health, running, Shin Pain

Shin Pain and Stress fractures – Heal strong and fast

July 16, 2015 • By

marathonTreating your shin pain and foot pain from stress fracture the right way, as soon as possible, means you heal faster and stronger. In this series on stress fractures, I will tell you what a stress fracture is, what causes them and most importantly what rehab exercises and self-treatment you can do to get it right.

Following on from the first post in the series which detailed what stress fractures and stress reactions are and why endurance athletes are so prone to shin pain and foot pain and what to do initially, this post gives you the rehab to help it heal faster, by covering phase 2 and 3 of stress fracture rehab.

Phase 2 – Strength, conditioning and rehab

When to start: Phase 2 of rehab from stress reactions starts when general activities of daily living (walking, hanging out washing etc) can be done without symptoms – Pain is an indication of overload to the bone in many cases, so we need to listen to our bodies.

The main three aspects that need to be covered in home rehab of stress fractures are:

  1. Exercise to maintain cardiovascular fitness and prevent muscle loss
  2. Rehab exercises to address cause behind the injury

So let’s address those:

1. Maintain fitness

It is important to note that in most cases you don’t have to completely rest – there is always something you can do, and very important not to lose fitness. So with that in mind, and the fact that exercise actually boosts healing, here are some things that you could do:

  • Pool training – this can start light, treading water in the deep pool and swimming, progressing to jogging in chest-deep water.
  • Stationary bicycle or exercycle – this is a great way to keep up the fitness without causing pain
  • When poor walking etc is pain-free, begin going for short walks and build this up. Eventually you should be able to walk without pain for 30 minutes at the end of this phase

Tip: Remember, you cannot return to loading the bone until the bone is pain-free to tap on and touch

2. Rehab exercises

These should aim to:

  • Increase muscular endurance
  • Improve core and pelvic stability
  • Work on balance training
  • Address flexibility issues
  • Re-train running pattern

Here are some great options to work on:

Heel raises to build calf endurance

Calf raise, calf exercise, heel raiseLevel 1: Start these on two legs, aiming for 3 sets of 10 reps

Level 2: When comfortable and pain-free, progress to single leg heel raises

Level 3: Goal: 30 heel raises in a row

 

 

 

One leg squats to retrain pelvic and lower limb stability

Single leg Squat, hip stability and strength

Aim for 3 sets of 10 reps.

These need to be done with good technique so it can help to do them in front of a mirror

 

 

 

 

Wobble board balance re-training

Bosu ball, wobble board ankle and calf re-training rehab quick

 

Re-training your balance and coordination of the muscles is very improtant, and easily done with either a wobble board or a Bosu ball.

Aim for at least one minute on each leg.

If you can’t get a wobble board, try rolling up a towel firmly and standing on this

 

 

Stretching:

Calves

calf stretch , soleus, gastroc - self treatment for shin splints

Hang one heel at a time off a step and hold for 30 seconds

 

 

 

 

Hamstrings

doorway stretch

 

MTSS shin splints self treatmentStretch out your hamstrings up a doorway of wall as shown here and hold for at least 30 seconds each side

Alternatively you could use a foam roller to loosen up your hamstrings and calves!

 

 

Tip: Continue to ice after exercise and exercise should always be pain-free – a return of shin pain or foot pain can’t be taken lightly.

Phase 3: Safe progression back to full activity

Before starting this phase, you need to be able to do all the previous exercises and painfree and ideally be cleared by your physio or doctor.

When returning to running, a good guideline is to increase activity by no more than 15% to 20% per week. You should also be able to walk for 30 minutes comfortably and you can build this up the same way.

A good starting point, is to run 500m followed by a day of rest or a short walk. If this is pain-free, then you can jog 3 x weekly, ensuring that there are rest days

The distance above is just a guideline but basically start with a short distance and if this is pain-free, slowly increase this, never increasing by more than 15% per week. This is because bones take time to adapt, heal and get stronger – you need to give them this time and only increase in small amounts so as not to overload them.(1)

Numb feet when running lace up properlyTip: when returning to running, it is important to have the right technique – pay a visit to your local sports physio or appropriate professional to have this looked at and also to get some advice on footwear for you as this is very individual (but maybe stay away from minimalist or “barefoot” footwear and aim for motion controlled footwear initially (2)).


Foot pain, Health, running, Shin Pain

1 in 5 people will get a Stress Fracture Running

July 2, 2015 • By

Stress fracture shinA huge 20% of runners get stress fractures – often when building to a big race! Find out here the most up-to-date information on what they are, why runners are so prone to them and also how to get them better, faster.(3)

What is a stress fracture?

A stress fracture is, as the name suggests, a small fracture in a bone. It is a partial or incomplete fracture caused by the build up of stress to a localised area of bone. So they aren’t your usual fracture that happen due to a big fall or collision, they are due to repetitive strain, which is why runners are so at-risk, but more on that soon.

What causes a stress fracture?

Bones get stressed when there is a load placed through them, whether this is from the shock of your foot landing on the ground or from your muscles pulling on the bones to move you and absorb the shock. Stress fractures can basically be classified into two types:

1. Fatigue; This is caused by an abnormal stress (more than the bone is used to) to a normal bone.

2. Insufficiency; These fractures arise from the application of normal stress through a bone that is abnormal – such as mineral deficient or abnormally rigid. This is most prevalent in nutrient deficient and older population with osteoporosis and arthritis.

The type that is most common in the active population, as you can guess I’m sure, is the fatigue stress fracture. Generally the “abnormal force” that causes this bone-fatigue is due to increasing training intensity or distance, wearing inappropriate shoes or not progressing into new shoes, training on hard surfaces or due to poor alignment of the feet. The problem with bones is that they adapt a lot slower than muscles – when muscles can adapt and improve within a few weeks, bones can take a few months! This means that as your muscles improve and your lungs do too, you can go further and faster. The only problem with that is that your bones are still trying to adapt to the initial increase in training.

stress fracture cycle

Romani et al. Journal of Athletic Training 2002;37(3):306–314

Think of bone remodeling like renovating a house: Winter hits, and without thick walls it is bloody cold. So you adapt and decide to insulate the walls. Your bones are the same, they get an increase in stress through them and think hey, I need to get stronger, but before your bones get stronger, just like insulating your walls, the current walls need to be taken downs first. The problem is if you increase training load or intensity in this time when the bone is actually weaker, when trying to remodel, you can push it over the edge and cause a stress fracture.

In fact, there’s even a window of about a month where bone becomes weaker after an increase in training stress because of the way the body remodels bone, as described above. Your body first tears out some walls in the bone structure before it can put in new ones, much like remodeling your house.

Where do they happen?

Stress fractures in runners are most common in the shin bone, the navicular bone in the foot and the 2nd and 3rd metatarsals (long bones in the foot) – stress fractures through these three bones make up over 50% of all stress fractures.(1)

Note: Shin splints does not mean stress fracture. Shin splints is a generalised, umbrella term that is used to describe pain in the anterior shin – this can be a number of things so be sure to have your shin pain diagnosed by a professional.

Why are runners so at risk for stress fractures?

Stress fractures account for a massive 20% of athletic injuries and are very common in endurance activities, especially distance running. This is hardly surprising as running requires thousands of repetitive steps on every run – now if you do any of these for example:

  • Increase training mileage too fast (more than 30% in two weeks for example)
  • Start using new minimalist shoes all of a sudden
  • Increase training intensity

Just to name a few! This will be putting more load through your bones than they are used to. If they then aren’t given time to adapt to this and get stronger – they will actually suffer repeated micro trauma and will fracture

A stress fracture typically feels like an aching or burning localized pain somewhere along a bone. Usually, it will hurt to press on it, and the pain will get progressively worse as you run on it, eventually hurting while walking or even when you’re not putting any weight on it at all. Sometimes, if the stress fracture is along a bone that has a lot of muscles around it, like the tibia or femur, these muscles will feel very tight.

 

So what can you do to help it heal strong and fast and get back to running ASAP?

Firstly, get it diagnosed by a professional. The vast majority of stress fractures heal within 8 weeks, but it is important to have it diagnosed as soon as possible so that yo know for sure what it is.

Secondly, rehabilitation of a stress fracture can be split into three phases:

Phase 1: Relative rest (rest and protect phase)

The goal in the first phase is to rest the injured area to give it time to heal, while maintaining aerobic fitness. This is the main goals:

  • RICE injury treatment, heal strong and fastRest the injured area: No running or loading up the area. Listen to it, if it hurts, stop. A moon boot may be needed and will definitely help you heal strong.
  • Maintain fitness through swimming and cycling
  • Seek treatment from a physio – This does help as it is important to maintain full range of motion and to unload the injured area
  • Ice to decrease inflammation and limit secondary damage
  • Do not take anti-inflammatory medication if you can help it (you don’t want to stop inflammation and slow healing)(2)

Phase 2: Strength, conditioning and rehab

In this stage we need to ensure the causative factors behind the injury are sorted out. Things such as, tight muscles, muscles with poor endurance or controlled and training error. This is the phase that you will enjoy as unlike the first phase, it isn’t all rest and unload – You can take control of your recovery by doing the right rehab exercises to ensure the stress fracture heals strong and fast. Your exercises need to address these areas:

  • Increase muscular endurance (calves, glutes and hamstrings)
  • Improve core and pelvic stability
  • Work on balance training (proprioception)
  • Address flexibility issues
  • Re-train running pattern

Phase 3: Safe progression back to full activity

This is where you ease your body back into it while allowing the bone to strengthen and heal – without overloading again.

In the second blog post in this stress fracture series, I am going to detail phase 2 and 3 – the exercises that you can do to help speed up recovery and have you healing strong. These are all exercises that can be done at home so there is no excuse for them not being done!