Stress fractures can be major source of stress for athletes
FOR those of us who enjoy exercise, whether elite athlete or recreational runner, sustaining an injury leads to a frustrating time out of our normally active life.
The onset of most injuries is usually obvious – the twisting of a knee or the sudden tightness in a hamstring. As a result we seek professional help quickly or at least reduce our activity to allow healing and a controlled return to sport. However some injuries have a more insidious onset and are not recognised until significant damage has occurred. One such injury is a stress fracture.
A stress fracture is an injury now wellrecognised in high-impact sports like longdistance running or gymnastics, as well as in other disciplines like ballet or army recruits who undertake a very active training regime. Women are more at risk especially those with abnormal or absent menstrual cycles.
Stress fractures are usually the result of an increase in high-impact activity such as when you increase the frequency, intensity or duration of this activity for example in the weeks prior to a 10K or half marathon especially if you have fallen behind in your training plan. Most occur in the weightbearing bones of the leg or foot. Poor conditioning, more easily fatigued muscles and poor footwear can all contribute, as does a change in running surface, such as indoor to outdoor track, or poor technique.
The main symptom of a stress fracture is pain which develops gradually, increases with the weight-bearing activity and which decreases with rest. Eventually the pain will be present even on normal daily activity and the site may become swollen and tender to touch. Diagnosis is often difficult.
Treatment requires a reduction in activity – difficult to achieve if you are training for a major competition like the Olympics. A visit to a sports podiatrist can assist with footwear and non-weight bearing activity such as swimming and cycling to maintain fitness. Once healing has taken place you can gradually return to activity, taking care to slowly build up the frequency, duration and intensity with adequate rest.
Prevention is always better than cure. A healthy diet to build and maintain bone strength and proper footwear are vital. Maintain muscle strength and delay fatigue with a basic strengthening programme. You should always try to increase activity gradually, especially in a new sport or when you increase your training. Try to alternate activity – for example try adding swimming or cycling to your jogging programme – you will get the same benefit on fitness and stamina.
■ To contact the Hampden Sports Clinic call 0141 616 6161 or visit www.hampdensports clinic.com