Experiencing stress fractures is a common concern among long distance runners due to the very nature of the repetitive movement sport of running. We can see this just by looking at the causes of a fracture.
The most common fracture in runners and which accounts for almost 50% of all fractures in athletes are seen on the tibia bone. Other common areas that runners sustain fractures are the fibula, femur, and the metatarsals (feet bones).
The ability to treat the fracture will be determined by where exactly the fracture is in relation to the bone. Those that occur on the compression side of the bone or easier to treat and heal faster than those on the tension side, which can quickly turn into a complete fracture if not treated properly. Your healthcare provider can confirm the site of your fracture.
There are many causes and unknown causes of a fracture but one of the most common causes in runners is the fact that we move repeatedly in a rhythmic muscle manner over a long period of time.
In short we are contracting and relaxing our lower leg muscles, over and over and over again in the exact same manner for many, many miles, sometimes for hours and hours. A huge amount of force is being placed on our bones and overtime and the buildup of miles the bone can become very "stressed" resulting in a stress fracture.
If the bone is placed under repeated stress and not given sufficient time to heal and remodel itself it will fail and begin to show signs of this micro-damage or tiny micro-tears in the bone shaft.
As we can see this is an overuse injury that is prevalent among runners and in particular, marathon runners.
Other causes of fractures in runners are due to:
The difficulty in treating a stressed fracture lies in the fact that they can take weeks to be detected and diagnosed. X-rays can fail to show signs of a fracture early on. A bone scan is more likely to pick up on the signals earlier however.
Stress fractures are not the end-all-be-all but if you do find yourself with one remember: take a break from running, see your healthcare provider, and treat that area like you would a baby!
Gallo, Robert A., Michael Plakke, and Matthew L. Silvis. “Common Leg Injuries of Long-Distance Runners: Anatomical and Biomechanical Approach.” Sports Health 4.6 (2012): 485–495. PMC. Web. 10 Mar. 2015.
Liem BC, Truswell HJ, Harrast MA. Rehabilitation and return to running after lower limb stress fractures. Curr Sports Med Rep. 2013 May-Jun;12(3):200-7. doi: 10.1249/JSR.0b013e3182913cbe. Review. PubMed
Prentice, William E., and Daniel D. Arnheim. Arnheim's Principles of Athletic Training: A Competency-based Approach. Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2006. Print. (Information & original image)