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You are here: Home / HPRC Blog / The lowdown on stress fractures—and how to prevent them

The lowdown on stress fractures—and how to prevent them

published: 03-27-2012 Journal entry icon

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons defines a stress fracture as a tiny crack in a bone that occurs when fatigued muscles lose their ability to absorb shock and then transfer stresses to the bone. Most stress fractures occur in the lower extremities, and more than half occur in the lower leg and foot.

A stress fracture is an overuse—sometimes referred to as chronic—injury, which means that it develops over a long period of time—from weeks to months. According to a 2011 systematic review published in Military Medicine, stress fracture incidence is high among U.S. military recruits, ranging anywhere from 3% for men to 9.2% for women.

Since it can take several weeks or months for a stress fracture to heal, the best approach is to avoid getting one. Here are some tips for prevention:

  1. Apply the progression principle of training—gradually increase your training intensity. Slowly incorporate higher-stress activities such as jumping and interval training into your workout. Setting incremental goals can be helpful in carrying out your training routine in a gradual way. And check out HPRC’s Physical Fitness Resources for more information on training and ways to avoid injury.
  2. Check your footwear and make sure it matches your training. Replace footwear that is old or worn.
  3. Pay attention to the surface where you train, since some are easier on the bones and joints of the lower extremities. For example, it is better to jog on softer surfaces such as rubber track or grass rather than on concrete. Also, it’s better to begin training on a flat surface and then progress to hills.
  4. Monitor your diet, specifically calcium and vitamin D intake, and read the National Institute of Health’s Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet on calcium. To learn more about nutrition take a look at HPRC’s Nutrition Resources.

It is important to recognize a stress fracture and seek medical advice early, as discussed in Clinics in Sports Medicine. The Mayo Clinic provides information on the symptoms of a stress fracture.