As the weather gets warmer and we head outdoors to participate in more recreational sports and activities, we will be putting more stress on our muscles and bones. In the upcoming months, we will jump off the couch and out into our backyards to finally enjoy outdoor activities. While it’s tempting to spend entire days outside running around with friends and family, keep in mind the need to acclimate our bodies to greater levels of physical exertion. We must be especially careful with our legs and feet, as increased exertion and impact can lead to a higher risk of stress fractures.
A stress fracture is a very small break in a bone that most commonly occurs when bones are forced to repeatedly bear our weight. Anyone who engages in soccer, basketball, running, or even volleyball is susceptible to these breaks, especially after a long winter during which minimal activity is exhibited. People with particular foot shapes and characteristics may need to take extra precaution.
High arches: people which high arches tend to have more rigid feet, therefore experiencing less absorption during a heel strike. This diminished bone mobility can result in easier bone breaks.
Ankle pronation: people with ankle pronation will also have lesser shock absorption during a heel strike, therefore rendering them more vulnerable to breaks.
It’s important to know the difference between shin splints and stress fractures in the tibia, as these are often confused. Widespread pain tends to indicate shin splints while localized pain tends indicate a stress fracture. Keep in mind, however, that an untreated stress fracture can intensify in pain, which can make the distinction between the two ailments less clear. Intensifying pain can also suggest that a stress fracture is developing into a full fracture. The best measure to take when experiencing any level of pain is to seek medical attention to receive proper diagnosis.
In regard to preventative measures, strengthening and stretching the muscles in the shin are the best modes of defense. Strengthening the muscles will provide more bone support, and stretching them will yield more shock absorption during heel strikes. Stretch your calves and ankles before heading out to engage in physical activity, and incorporate calf and ankle strengthening exercises into your daily routine.