Stress or hairline fractures are one of the most common injuries for athletes and athletic adults. They can occur over time from overuse or can come on pretty quick if you’re getting back into a routine and take things too fast. Stress fractures are most common in the weight bearing bones of the lower leg and foot. Shin splints can quickly turn into stress fractures if they aren’t treated properly. Stress fractures are tiny cracks in a bone and are typically caused by repetitive force. They can also arise from normal use of a bone that is weakened by a condition or age.
Even though distance runners, tennis players, track and field athletes, basketball players and other athletes are most prone to stress fractures in shins and feet, anyone can be susceptible to them. Stress fractures can be one of the most finicky and slow to heal injuries as well. Taking preventative steps is pivotal to avoid being sidelined from stress or hairline fractures.
- It’s never too early to practice proper nutrition
You’re never too young to start taking calcium! Bone health and density is heavily impacted by diet. Make sure you are getting the proper amount of calcium and if you’re not, consider adding a calcium supplement to your daily routine. Vitamin D is also important for improving bone health. This doesn’t just come from being outside in the sun and can have tons of other positive side effects so it’s worth adding to your diet even if it’s just preventative. Supplements are affordable and you’ll be reaping the benefits for years to come if you start now.
- Footwear always matters
This goes for all athletes, not just runners. Make sure the footwear you wear during competition and practice is what it should be for your body type, foot and sport. Bad footwear can lead to an injury quickly if you’re not careful. Invest in the right footwear before you start training for that race, start coming back from time off or start a new sport. Do you research and if you need more help, go to a local specialty store to figure out what’s right for you. Don’t take a gamble or try and cut costs because an injury will cost more down the road than a good pair of shoes.
- Make training changes slowly and gradually
One of the biggest culprits causing injury is making big training changes too quickly. This could be coming back from off too quickly or picking a new race to train for and getting after it too fast from the get go. Especially if it’s something your body isn’t used to, take your time planning and start small. Even if your body and lungs can do more, remember that the bones in your feet and shins take a lot of the heavy impact when you start training again. Whether it’s running hill sprints, jogging, doing box jumps or squats, your lower legs can take all of the brunt. Start slow and get help from a knowledgeable source about planning your new routine or training schedule. If you’re a runner, stick to the 10% rule for guidance – that you won’t increase more than 10% week over week.
- Include low-impact cross training in your workout routine
Don’t overdue high-impact activity. Period. No matter what you’re training for, cross-training can be extremely beneficial. Not only does it improve your overall fitness and better prepare you for competition, it is a great way to decrease risk of injury. Add a spin or Pilates class to your weekly routine and you’re sure to decrease your risk of shin splints and stress fractures.
- Be aware of the surfaces you are running on
The types of surfaces you run on or train on can absolutely impact your risk of getting stress fractures. Softer surfaces like dirt trails and grass are a lot more forgiving and gentle on joints and bones. Consistently running on concrete and asphalt is tough not just for shins and feet, but for all of your joints including your hips and back. If sprints are in the training schedule, try and access turf, grass or a track. This goes for what you do in the gym as well. When doing plyometric work try and find a softer surface as opposed to gym linoleum floors.
- Get your form checked out
Practicing good form with any exercise is a key to staying injury-free. Poor technique is a really common form of injury and stress fractures, especially among newer athletes. If you’re transferring your weight wrong or just not being as careful as you could, it can have a very negative impact on the impact your bones take when you hit the ground. If you’re increasing mileage on the road or picking up a new form of exercise, get input on keeping proper form by an expert. You don’t necessarily have to pay for hours with a coach. There are thousands of online resources to use if you’re a visual learner and can teach yourself.
- Take rest days
It’s great to be eager but always remember not to take it too far or too fast. The best athletes take rest days and rest is not something to take too lightly when it comes to your training. If you’re new to activity or coming back from injury, prioritize rest days. You can even use your rest days for active recovery (yoga, stretching, recovery) so it doesn’t get too boring and you still feel productive. This will give your bones and joints time to rest and will lower your risk of stress fracture.
- Use a training plan and stick to it
This tip goes hand in hand with number 7. Sticking to a schedule will ensure that you don’t try and do too much too soon. If you’ve been on the injury reserve list or are coming back from a cold or a vacation, plan out a 6-8 week training schedule. Start small and schedule time for recovery and rest every single week. Don’t dive in head first without a schedule. Having a training plan will also let you stick to the rules of thumb of not adding too much onto each day or week of your training.
- Avoid the treadmill when you can
Make sure to use the treadmill as a last resort. It’s tough to make yourself run outside when it’s a million degrees or blowing rain and snow, but try not to make it a habit if you don’t have to. Treadmills, especially for long runs and sprints, are extremely hard on your bones and joints. If you can, stick to the softer surfaces and make sure your long runs are done outside on the trails if you can.
- Never skimp on your warm up and recovery
Not surprisingly, our last and most important piece of advice is to pay attention to your warm up and recovery. If you’re shins are feeling sore or you seem to be developing shin splints, REST! Use cold therapy and compression for your shins to reduce inflammation. If you can treat shin splints early with tools like these, you’re more likely to be able to prevent stress fractures. Don’t push through pain like that at any point.