We are right in the middle of the fall season of sports. Athletes started hard in August and have been continuing to give it their all week in and week out. The middle of the season is usually when overuse injuries start to creep up. One overuse injury that an athlete never wants to hear about is a stress fracture. This means no more playing and rest that may keep them out for the rest of the fall. Why do these injuries happen? What can be done to prevent them?
Why do Stress Fractures Occur?
Stress fractures can happen for a number of reasons. Overuse is one of the main reasons. A bone gets overloaded over and over leading to a small crack that causes pain. Eventually, the pain becomes enough that an athlete’s performance goes down and they seek treatment. These fractures can happen in many different bones and this usually depends on the type of sports that they play. Most stress fractures occur in the foot or lower leg.
Other reasons for stress fractures include poor footwear, hard running surfaces, and increasing activities too quickly.
Identifying Stress Fractures
How do you know if your child may have a stress fracture? They will complain of pain that is usually over one specific area. They may have some swelling in that area as well. If you are concerned, your child should see their pediatrician or an orthopedist. They can do an x-ray (or occasionally an MRI) to see if a stress fracture is there. If they find something, they will have your child rest from activities and usually will give them a walking boot or cast (if the injury is in the foot or lower leg). Rest can take anywhere from 4-8 weeks.
Preventing Stress Fractures
Now that we know what to look for, can these injuries be prevented? Below is a list of things that can be helpful in preventing a stress injury in your young athlete.
- Change activities gradually! When starting a new season or getting into a new sport, start slow. Build up activities over a period of weeks, not days.
- Add cross-training into your workout. Doing the same thing over and over puts you at risk for a stress injury. Mixing it up and adding different things helps prevent this.
- Keep an eye on your equipment. Make sure to change out running shoes and cleats often. Poor padding in old shoes can contribute to increased stress and injuries
- Get enough calcium and Vitamin Although not proven to prevent stress fractures, getting enough calcium and Vitamin D is always important for bone health. Follow the daily Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for your child’s age group.
If you are ever concerned about a stress fracture, call your child’s pediatrician or sports medicine doctor for an evaluation.