Chances are, you’ve heard of stress fractures. Stress fractures are tiny cracks in a bone often caused by overuse. But did you know studies have shown that women are at a greater risk of developing stress fractures than men?
Why is that? Several reasons include nutrition deficiencies, lower bone density, and hormonal differences, especially in postmenopausal women. “Once menopause begins, bone density decreases,” explains Edith Cullen, MD, Orthopedic & Sports Medicine Center of Northern Indiana (OSMC).
Why the disparity? Dr. Cullen notes that men’s bones are naturally larger than women’s bones, making them more difficult to break. “It’s true, hormones play a vital role in the disparity between men and women,” Dr. Cullen says.
Understanding Stress Fractures
A stress fracture is a tiny crack in a bone. Stress fractures commonly occur in the tibia, also known as your shinbone (the large front leg bone below your knee). Other common places that stress fractures occur include the following:
- Tarsals (the seven bones that make up the ankle, midfoot, and hindfoot)
- Metatarsals (five long bones of the forefoot that connect the tarsals to the toes)
- Femur (the longest bone in the human body, it connects your knee to your hip)
- Ribs and other bones
Stress Fracture Symptoms
- Swelling, pain, or aching at the site of fracture
- Tenderness when touched on the bone
- At first you may have pain that begins after starting an activity and then resolves with rest
- As it progresses the pain presents throughout exercise and does not go away once the workout has ended
Causes of Stress Fractures
- Training too much, too quickly
- Poor footwear
- Poor nutrition
Dr. Cullen said the best way to prevent stress fractures is by not increasing the frequency or intensity of an activity too quickly. “If you’ve never walked a significant distance before, for instance, and then sign up for a 10K, that could cause stress fractures in your legs,” she explains. The doctor further notes, “The main thing to remember is that when you start a new exercise or training program, make sure you increase your distance and intensity slowly. You can also decrease the risk of a stress fracture by using the appropriate shoes, incorporating strength training, and maintaining a healthy balance between nutrition and exercise.”
So you think you may have a stress fracture… now what? “For most of our patients, stress fractures will often heal naturally over time with proper rest,” says Dr. Cullen, “However, if several weeks have passed and you’re not experiencing relief, you should contact your physician.”
Be smart about your recovery. Cycling and elliptical training are not OK if you have a stress fracture. “While you’re healing, consider upper-body workouts or spending time in the pool,” says the doctor.
If your pain persists, your physician may recommend devices such as special shoes, splints, cast, etc. to help you.
If you need to see a doctor for a suspected stress fracture or other pain you’re experiencing, schedule an appointment at OSMC — no referral from a physician is needed!
This blog post is not intended to provide personal medical advice, professional diagnosis, opinion, treatment to you or to any other individual. It is information for educational purposes only. You should not use this information in place of a consutatation or the advice of a healthcare provider.