Do you experience swelling on the top of your foot after exercise? Do you find that you feel pain in your feet or shins steadily becoming more intense during daily activities? If so, there's a good chance you have sustained a stress fracture, and you could be making it worse.
What Are Stress Fractures and Who Is Vulnerable to Them?
Stress fractures are tiny cracks in your bones that are caused by activities that transmit large amounts of force through your joints. Because your ankle joints tend to receive more force when playing sports than other joints in the body, stress fractures are particularly associated with the feet and shins.
Stress fractures don't have to result from a single traumatic injury like a twisted ankle when landing from a basketball shot. Most stress fractures are actually caused by repeatedly landing on a certain spot. If your bones aren't strong enough to deal with the force of your weight, cracks inevitably emerge sooner or later.
Because of this, it's easy to see why fast bowlers in cricket fall victim to stress fractures so often. But it's not just elite bowlers who need to worry. Running a few times a week is also a risk factor, so thousands of Australians could be suffering from low-level fractures without knowing it.
How to Avoid Stress Fractures
Preventing stress fractures isn't easy if you run every day, but some factors make people less susceptible. For example, people with larger calf muscles are far less likely to develop stress fractures to their tibia bones (between the knee and ankle).
Your calf muscles act like shock absorbers, preventing high forces from acting directly on your bones, so they need to be strong.
Many elite marathon runners take extreme measures to strengthen their calves as a result. Some of them like to "duck walk" for twenty minutes a day, which essentially involves them walking on their heels then alternating onto their toes. Calf raises with a dumbbell in each hand are another effective method.
What to Do if You Think You Have a Stress Fracture
A 1996 study of 111 Australian athletes found that 21 percent of them suffered a stress fracture in a single year, so this kind of injury is extremely common.
If you regularly participate in cricket, tennis, basketball, track and field athletics, running or gymnastics, any long-term foot or shin pain could be a sign of a fracture. When you detect pain, it's always a good idea to get the matter checked out.
Contact a sports physio for an appointment, and they will carry out a full diagnosis. They won't just scan your bones for signs of a fracture. They will also offer nutritional advice and prescribe a recovery plan. Premature return to activity can ruin your recovery, so this part is crucial.
With the right medical assistance, stress fractures are rarely a disaster, but the longer you leave them, the worse they become, so get checked out now.