Stress Fracture Prevention

It is far better to prevent stress fractures of the foot than to have to treat them. Although the treatment of stress fractures is usually straightforward, the prospect of weeks away from weight bearing activity is best avoided, and in the majority of cases foot stress fractures can easily be prevented.

Prevention of Foot Stress Fractures

Everyone has potential to develop stress fractures in the feet, and it is not just the highly active who are at risk. The highly active may be particularly at risk of these overuse fractures, but even people who lead a largely sedentary lifestyle can develop stress fractures as out of condition muscles can fatigue easily. When muscles fatigue and they fail to perform, more stress has to be taken by the bones and over even a relatively short period of time stress fractures can develop.

Stress Fracture Risk Factors

Many people are at an increased risk of developing not only stress fractures in the feet, but also in the ankles, hips and pelvis. Although stress fractures are most commonly associated with overtraining, there are a number of risk factors which can increase the likelihood of developing these hairline cracks in your bones. If you suffer from any of the conditions below you have a much higher chance of developing stress fractures. It may not be possible to change these risk factors; however extra care should be taken to ensure that appropriate precautions are taken. Prevention of stress fractures is the best treatment after all.

  • Women have a higher risk of sustaining stress fractures than men
  • Changes in the intensity or duration of physical training
  • Poor nutrition; vitamin and mineral deficiencies
  • Crohn’s Disease, celiac disease and other intestinal problems can affect vitamin and mineral absorption
  • Hormone imbalances
  • Metabolic bone diseases
  • Muscle imbalances or lack of muscle strength
  • Supination and overpronation
  • Flat feet and foot arch problems
  • Obesity
  • Pregnancy

Activities which are more likely to result in stress fractures developing in the feet include:

  • Sports and exercise involving running or jumping
  • Running or walking on uneven surfaces
  • High impact sports such as football, soccer and basketball
  • Gymnastics and ballet
  • Returning to training after a period of absence
  • starting out with a new exercise routine
  • Work which involves heavy lifting
  • A job requiring you to be on your feet all day

Take Regular Exercise to Strengthen the Muscles and Bones to prevent Stress Fractures

Regular activity is important in order to maintain strong and healthy bones, and ensuring good bone health is a great way to prevent stress fractures. We all know that physical activity strengthens and develop the muscles in the body, but it also has an effect on the bones. Exercise can help to stimulate bone production, and only do the highly active have stronger bones, but the exercise helps to improve balance and coordination which in turn decreases the risk of falling.

Regular exercise is particularly important for children as it is in childhood that strong and healthy bones are formed. Weight bearing bones require regular activity to develop properly, and exercise can help children to develop peak bone densities. When the bones are strong, the chance of developing stress fractures is considerably reduced.

Increase the Duration, Frequency and Intensity of Exercise Slowly

Prevention of stress fractures does not mean having to stop or limit your training; however you need to be careful with any increase in the frequency of your training sessions, as well as increasing the intensity or the duration of exercise. It is important that you give your body time to adjust to a new exercise routine; be that an extra few miles spent running or taking it easy when you start out exercising again after a long period of inactivity. If you are recovering from a sports injury, you need to be particularly careful about resuming your old exercise or training routine. Your body will lose conditioning when you are laid up, and you will not be able to resume your old routine without taking some time for your muscles to get used to high activity levels once more.

A Healthy and Varied Diet Can Prevent Vitamin and Mineral Deficiencies

You must ensure that your body gets its full complement of minerals and vitamins if you want to prevent stress fractures. This is especially important during the younger years when the bone growth is at its highest. Good nutrition will ensure the bones form properly and peak bone density is achieved. Ensuring that your children eat a healthy and balanced diet is one of the best ways to prevent stress fractures in later life.

Serious eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa represent the greatest risk to the bones, and the poor nutrition will not only see poor muscle mass develop, but the bones suffer considerably. Even dieting and the avoidance of certain foodstuffs can increase the likelihood of suffering stress fractures. Food avoidance and eating disorders are all too common in teenage girls and young women, who feel under pressure to control their weight especially when undergoing athletic training. Avoiding fatty foods does not in itself present a large risk; however in doing so the body may see a reduction in calcium intake which can trigger the body to take this essential mineral from the bones.

In order to prevent stress fractures, the diet must be rich in calcium, as this is one of the most important minerals necessary for the formation of healthy bones. Calcium rich foods include, milk, yoghurt, cheese, fish, bread, tofu, nuts and broccoli, the latter also being a good source of vitamin D which helps the body to metabolize calcium. Unfortunately it is dairy foods and nuts which are often avoided due to the high fat content. While vitamin and mineral supplements can be beneficial to ensure adequate levels of vital vitamins and minerals are taken into the body, nothing is as good as a healthy diet which will provide vitamins and minerals in a form which is easily absorbed. However dietary supplements can ensure that the body gets the high levels required, which is especially important for training athletes.

Footwear and Stress Fracture Risk

Another vital step to take to prevent stress fractures is to ensure that correct footwear is used. High quality running shoes and sports trainers offer the extra cushioning and arch support to ensure that shock waves from exercise are properly dissipated and absorbed. High quality athletic shoes from the leading footwear manufacturers feature models suited for each running style for maximum support. Whilst money pressures may play a part in footwear choice, scrimping and saving is not the best way to go and unfortunately low cost trainers often do not provide adequate support and will rarely be as long lasting.

If you are serious about sport, you must also be serious about your shoes; certainly if you want to prevent stress fractures. You should choose shoes which are specifically designed for the sport or exercise you want to partake in, and you must replace your footwear frequently as it wears. Athletic shoes should be replaced every 500-700 miles for optimum support to be maintained.

If you overpronate or are an underpronator, be sure to choose your shoes to help correct these gait abnormalities. Checking your gait and ensuring your footwear matches can be an important way to prevent stress fractures from forming in the feet and lower body. You can read more about overpronation and underpronation on the respective links.

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