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Runner Injuries: Shin Stress Fracture ( It Does Sound Scary!)

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Stress fractures, especially in the shins, are one of the most dreaded injuries that runners have to face at least once in their life. But, don’t worry! If you know how to prevent them and how to treat them (just in case), it’s not that scary.

Bones weakened with age or due to osteoporosis may also suffer from stress fractures. Shin splints happen due to muscle pull alongside the tibia, further leading to a tibia stress fracture. While some people may recover quickly, others may take longer time, wherein a minimum of six weeks rest is mandatory.

In order to identify what kind of stress fracture you’ve got, you must know the two categories:

  • Low-risk stress fractures that include tibial stress fractures, metatarsal stress fractures, and fibular shin stress fractures
  • High-risk stress fractures such as femur, navicular, and pelvis stress fractures

Know More Here:

What is Stress Fracture

Stress Fracture
Stress Fracture: What it Looks Like (source)

A stress fracture can be defined as an overuse injury caused when there are small cracks in the weight-bearing bones (such as the foot and lower leg) because of heavy workouts and overuse of bones, as well as sudden switch of running surface. This usually happens when you have tibia bone pain, but continue to push yourself to run or workout.

The different types of stress fractures include shin stress fracture, stress fracture on top of the foot, stress fractures in the knee, stress fractures in the heel, stress fractures in ankle, and stress fractures in hips.

Stress Fracture - Symptoms to Look Out for!

It is fairly difficult to know if you have a stress fracture or not. So, before you see how to treat it, let’s see its symptoms.

What does a stress fracture feel like? The stress fracture in the lower legs typically starts with minor pain while running or exercising and can be cured with rest. Usually, this kind of tenderness is observed at the exact spot and is limited to that particular area. It’s a kind of deep and acute pain that hurts even while hopping or walking.

Shin splints or shin stress fractures are similar to stress fractures and are difficult to be distinguished from the latter. However, shin stress fractures cause a radiating pain from the area of the affected bone or muscle. You may feel tight pain in the affected area without any pain while hopping or walking. If you run fast when you have shin splints, you may experience severe pain.

How to Identify if You Have a Stress Fracture

x-ray of stress fracture shin
Shin Stress Fracture: How it Looks in a Bone Scan (Source)

When you go for a stress fracture test, most doctors ask you to get an X-ray done. However, sometimes stress fractures go unnoticed with X-rays. In such cases, doctors may advise an MRI scan or other nuclear bone scans to continue with their diagnosis. The scan will further detect if you have a shin stress fracture or any other type of stress fracture.

Treatment for Shin Stress Fractures and Recovery

For people affected by stress fractures, healing time depends on the type of bone which is injured and the intensity of injury. Here are some of the different shin stress fracture treatments:

  • Elevation:

The first step to recovery involves complete rest while placing the affected area in an elevated position. You can also use ice or heat therapy within 48 hours of injury and allow the bone to heal. It may take up to six weeks or more for complete recovery.

  • Medication:

For severe pain, doctors might prescribe painkillers. You may also be advised to wear a cast or a splint for a few weeks, depending upon the bone that’s affected.

  • Food and Diet:

The food you eat during your treatment plays an important role in recovery and future prevention of shin stress fractures. Make sure your diet includes the required amount of calcium, Vitamin D, and other essential minerals. It’s best to get your daily dose of minerals from your meals. Alternatively, you may go for health supplements that aid in mineral absorption in the body.

  • Bone Stimulator (to be used only on recommendation):

This is a painless procedure where electrical bone stimulators are used during the treatment. These devices are typically worn every day for several hours and during the night. The stimulator continuously transmits electrical current around the affected area to expedite the healing process.

  • Rest, Rest, and More Rest:

There’s no better cure for any kind of stress fracture than rest. Unless and until you’ve recovered from even the minutest pain, you should avoid applying any weight on the injured leg. (Sigh! Running may be a slightly distant dream.) Also, when you feel that you’re ready to get back to your running or workout routine, make sure you start gradually.

  • Proper Consultation

Ensure you follow your doctor’s advice diligently. Go for regular check-ups and continue with your medication in order to prevent the injury from occurring again at a later stage. During recovery, strengthen your mind and plan how to get yourself back in shape for training.  

  • Surgery (in Case of Severe Shin Stress Fractures)

If you’ve suffered severe injuries, you may have to undergo a surgery in order to repair the damage. In such cases, the recovery process can take months together or sometimes, even years! However, rest assured, you will recover completely and hit the gym again much stronger.

  • Cross-Training

During the later stages of your recovery process, your doctor may advise you to take up certain cross-training activities like aqua jogging. Such tasks are considered very helpful during recovery.

Prevention of Shin Stress Fractures

nutrition to prevent shin stress fracture
An Apple a Day Keeps Stress Fractures Away!

To expect a passionate runner to stop running and sit back at home just to avoid shin stress fractures is unjust. However, to equip yourself with some useful tips for keeping shin stress fractures at bay isn’t a bad idea:

1. Workout Intensity

Start your workout routine slowly and don’t rush into it. According to experts, you should increase the intensity of your workout only up to 10% per week.

2. Warm Up

Always do some stretches and warm up before you hit the tracks or start off with that high-level basketball game. This will prepare your body well for the activity, thereby lowering any risks of injury.

3. Take Breaks

Inculcate the habit of taking short breaks in between your game or workout routine. Sometimes, all your body asks for is a little break from those strenuous movements!

4. Stop When it Hurts

No matter what those motivation quotes say, don’t push yourself through a high-intensity workout if your body screams “it hurts”. Listen to your body; if you’re totally exhausted, then it’s time to stop. Nobody really gets anywhere with draining one’s body or pushing through the pain, right? (And, no, stopping when it gets too much does not make you weak.)

5. Right Shoes and Equipment

Wearing the right shoes for running or workout and using well-maintained equipment is very crucial. If you put on worn-out shoes or non-running shoes, needless to say, it will increase the risks of getting injured. Use arch support or shock-absorbing orthotics in your shoes to prevent injury.

6. Nutrition

Incorporate a healthy diet and maintain your body well. With good nutrition, your muscles and bones will function efficiently and be less prone to injuries.

7. Smoking and Alcohol

Avoid smoking and alcohol consumption when you’re into a workout routine.

8. Strength Training

Ensure that you include strength training in your routine on a regular basis. Strengthening your core plays a great role in preventing injuries because your bones and muscles will be strong enough to withstand any amount of pressure.

Hip Stress Fractures Symptoms and Treatment

The hip stress fracture is an injury or a hairline crack affecting the ball connected to the ball-and-socket hip joint (the femoral neck). It’s usually caused due to overuse of the bones and muscles, and typically seen in athletes, aged people or those who suffer from low bone density. The two types of hip stress fractures are as follows:

  1. Fatigue fractures: They involve hairline cracks in the normal bone, caused due to bearing extreme force.
  2. Insufficiency fractures: These are cracks in any abnormal bone, caused even under normal pressure.

The hip stress fracture is a serious injury because the hip bone blood supply is very fragile and any fracture to the hip can damage this blood supply, further causing hip osteonecrosis. A hip hairline fracture symptom mainly includes severe pain in the groin while running or working out. The pain reduces with rest but worsens with any physical activities. Here are some effective ways of treating hip stress fractures:

  • Timely Diagnosis:

Consult a doctor, get an accurate diagnosis done, and follow the treatment procedure as advised.

  • Rest:

Go into a complete rest mode for a few weeks and stay away from all activities that involve your hip joints. This is very important because lack of rest will only lead to further injuries and hinder effective recovery.

  • Diet and Supplements:

While you are recuperating from a hip stress fracture, make sure you include more calcium and Vitamin D-rich foods and supplements in your diet. This will help strengthen your bones and aid in recovery.

  • Strengthening Workouts:

Since your lower body is devoid of any activity, you can use this time to strengthen the upper body and include core workouts. As you recover and feel pain-free, you can slowly start with lower body strengthening exercises like lunges and squats.

  • Surgery:

In most severe cases of injury, wherein there’s a risk of bone displacement, doctors may advise surgical treatment. X-rays are done on every follow-up session in order to track the healing process. After surgery, you’ll have to be under a physiotherapist for a few weeks till you’re fit to get back into activity. In less severe cases, you may be advised to use crutches while walking and standing.  

Livingit Tip
Avoid high-intensity workouts till your doctor approves of it.

Foot Stress Fracture Treatment

If you experience pain in your foot when weight is applied or there’s swelling on the foot or pain that disappears with rest, then chances are that you may have a foot stress fracture. Whether it is a hairline fracture or not, you need to treat this carefully in order to avoid a permanent injury.

Let’s see some ways to treat a foot stress fracture.

  • Right diagnosis and treatment procedure.
  • Plenty of rest and no application of weight on the foot up to eight weeks (depending on the severity). Crutches or casts may be advised at a later stage in the healing process.
  • Medication and healthy diet.
  • Surgery in case of severe injury.

Livingit Tip
Foot stress fractures can trick you to have recovered quickly, urging you to resume activity. In order to avoid more injury and increasing the healing time, you must consult your doctor before getting back to your routine.

Summing Up

Shin stress fractures are the most troublesome and common running injuries that any runner or athlete can suffer from. By following the right preventive measures and running/working out in the right manner, you can avoid these injuries to a great extent.

Moreover, now that you’re aware of the diagnosis and treatment methods for shin stress fractures, shed your worries revolving around it! Do share with us your story of recovery from shin and stress fractures or how you’ve always prevented them from occurring.

Now that you know how to deal with shin stress fractures, you have absolutely nothing to worry about (except, maybe your running form).

So, go ahead, tie up your shoelaces and get running!

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