Jack Skendzel, M.D., one of Summit Orthopedics’ sports medicine experts, shares his best advice for avoiding stress fractures during the summer outdoor sports season.
Summer’s long days and beautiful, sunny weather tempt lots of people outside. This year, many people may be especially eager to get outside for a change of scenery, given this spring’s widespread lockdowns. For those who aren’t comfortable taking up team sports this summer, jogging or running is a popular choice to get some exercise, reduce stress, boost mental well-being, and improve health.
But be careful — starting a vigorous sport like running could put you at risk of a stress fracture. Stress fractures are small cracks in the bone that can result from overuse.
“A stress fracture happens because there is too much stress or weight on the bone. It is basically an imbalance. You’re doing too much, and your bone isn’t prepared for that,” said Dr. Skendzel. “With repetitive activity, your body’s ability to rebuild is compromised.”
Our bodies’ bones are constantly changing. As we change our habits, our bone changes with us. That means that after a period of less activity — like being cooped up at home during the colder months — our bones need time to get used to increased activity, especially a high-impact exercise like running.
Tip 1: Start slowly to avoid stress fractures
Make adjustments in your activity level gradually. “You should gradually add time or intensity to your program as you feel comfortable,” Dr. Skendzel said. “This gives your bones time to rebuild.”
Tip 2: Boost bone health
Supporting your bone health can help your bones support you — and avoid stress fractures. Make sure you’re getting enough calcium and vitamin D. Start by incorporating calcium-rich foods into your diet, but also talk with your doctor about a supplement if needed.
Tip 3: Avoid stress fractures by wearing good shoes
Proper footwear can help you keep your feet healthy, and also can prevent injury when running or jogging. Running shoes wear out after 300 to 500 miles of use, so you may need to get new shoes for your running regime. Look for shoes with good padding and good cushioning.
Tip 4: Run right to protect against stress fractures
Your running form — how you run — is an important part of avoiding injuries like stress fractures. Summit’s physical therapy team offers running analyses to help you improve your running technique. “We also have experts at Summit who are big-time runners, so we know the sport and can help with your form,” Dr. Skendzel said. “Good form means you’re less likely to get an injury.”
Learn more about running analysis at Summit
Tip 5: Take time to warm up and cool down
“Good warm-ups and good cooldowns are essential,” Dr. Skendzel said. Taking a few minutes to gently warm up muscles with light activity, and then stretching well after a run, can help increase bone health, improve muscle flexibility, protect against strain to tendons, ligaments, and joints, and avoid stress fractures.
Take a look at this video from Summit on stretching
Tip 6: If it hurts, stop
It can be frustrating to have to stop running, especially when you’re trying to start a running regimen. But pain is a signal that something isn’t right, and ignoring it won’t make it go away.
If you are feeling pain, or you feel something’s just not right as you run, stop. “Pain that gets worse during a run, or gets worse the farther you go, or gets worse over time, can all be signs of problems,” Dr. Skendzel said.
Other injury signs to look for include swelling on the foot or ankle or a spot on your leg, ankle, or foot that is tender to the touch. Limping or changing the way you run to avoid pain are also warning signs.
Following these tips will help you run safely and avoid stress fractures. And if you have questions about starting or continuing a running program, Summit Orthopedics is here to help. “We understand what you’re going through, and we’re here to help,” Dr. Skendzel said.
Summit Orthopedics offers comprehensive sports medicine expertise
From Olympians to pro athletes to kids in youth sports and those that just want to be more active—Summit Orthopedics delivers expert care by fellowship-trained sports medicine physicians. If you are recently injured or concerned about ongoing pain, Summit Orthopedics sports medicine specialists have the expertise to evaluate your discomfort and develop a plan to quickly and safely help you get back to being active.
Start your journey to stronger, healthier athletic condition. Find your sports medicine expert, request an appointment online, or call us at (651) 968–5201 to schedule a sports medicine consultation.
Summit has convenient locations across the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area, serving Minnesota and western Wisconsin. We have state-of-the-art centers for comprehensive orthopedic care in Eagan, MN, Plymouth, MN, Vadnais Heights, MN, and Woodbury, MN, as well as several additional community clinics.