Updated: Jul 30, 2020
Few injuries are more frustrating to athletes—and runners in particular—than stress fractures. It’s not just because of the pain, although these surface cracks in your bone can cause a lot of discomfort and even require treatment with a boot-walker or other shoe modification. It’s because of the time it takes to recover, and the amount of self-discipline required to see it all the way through.
Stress fractures are tiny, hairline cracks in the bones of your foot, caused by overuse (such as a sudden change in activity, or too much running or impact sports without adequate rest periods). Pain usually increases gradually, spiking during activity and lessening during rest. Although in most cases formal “treatment” is not really required, it will take 6-8 weeks of stopping impact activity completely for the bones to fully heal.
This is the part that frustrates most sufferers, and why so many people deal with chronic pain from this injury. You may find that, after just a few weeks of rest, you no longer feel any discomfort. That may lead you to make a (false) assumption that everything is okay, and you can go back to the trail. Don’t!
The pain may be gone, but that doesn’t mean the bone has healed. The injury requires the full amount of time—2 months for most—to repair itself. Going back to running before your bones are ready will only re-aggravate the injury, forcing you to start over with recovery.
That doesn’t mean someone who normally runs 10 miles can get away with running 2 or 3 miles while recovering. Rest means rest. Stop the activity entirely until you get the go-ahead from Dr. Watkins. To maintain your fitness and avoid cabin fever, you can engage in low-impact exercise like walking, cycling, swimming, or weight training while you wait.
No one likes being held back from their outdoor fun—especially when they otherwise feel fine—but you’ll spare yourself a lot of pain and missed time in the long run by taking the time to make sure your stress fracture has fully healed. If you suspect you may have this injury, or are experiencing any kind of foot pain, call Dr. Leon Watkins of Gulf South Foot & Ankle at 504-708-4810 today. You can also request an appointment online.