Reducing the risk of stress fractures in women

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As much as we like to pretend men and women are the same, physiologically they are very different.  Because of this difference one of the effects for women is the fact they are more prone to certain injuries while running.  A common injury women are susceptible to causing them to miss time from exercise are stress fractures.

What is a stress fracture?

Stress fractures are tiny cracks in a bone often called hairline bone breaks that are caused by the repetitive application of force.  They are often due to overuse such as repeatedly jumping up and down or running long distances. 

The most common stress fracture sites are the tibia or shin bone and metatarsals in the foot. 

Symptoms of a stress fracture may at first be barely noticed.  But with time, it tends to worsen resulting in tenderness in a specific spot that decreases with rest.  There can also be swelling around the area in pain.  Stress fractures can be diagnosed either with an x-ray or a bone scan.

Why are women more prone to stress fractures?

There are multiple reasons why women are more likely to be affected by a stress fracture:

·      The most common mistake women make is increasing their training by too much, rapidly adding and/or increasing jumping, speed training or overall mileage too quickly.

·      Low body weight – Researchers found that women runners with a body mass index (BMI) below 19 were more likely to suffer stress fractures than men. 

·      Having too little lean muscle mass - Repetitive pounding on hard surfaces makes the bones of female runners’ legs vulnerable to injury.

·      Unhealthy eating habits – Eating disorders and a lack of vitamin D and calcium can make bones more likely to develop stress fractures

·      Loss of regular monthly period or amenorrhea.

·      Weak bones – Conditions such as osteoporosis can weaken bones making it easier for stress fractures to occur.

·      Women with flat feet or high, rigid arches.

·      Footwear that is old and worn.

Reducing the risk of stress fractures in women

The first step is to reduce the risk of developing a stress fracture to begin with.  Some stress fractures don’t heal properly which can lead to chronic pain.  In addition, if the underlying causes are not addressed, a woman may be placing herself at a higher risk of additional stress fractures.

Here are ways to prevent or at least reduce the risk of a stress fracture:

·      Wear appropriate shoes. Replace shoes every 300 to 400 miles or ones that are older than a few months.

·      Try to run on softer surfaces such as dirt, cinders, or an all-weather track

·      Consume at least 1000 mg of calcium each day and eat good food sources of vitamin D along with getting in some sun each day. 

·      Do not try to run through the pain

·      Make any changes in working out or training gradually. 

·      Have a good strengthening program in an exercise routine.