Dear Alice,

I have a mild stress fracture from jogging. How long should I allow for it to heal? Also, what are some other good activities I can do so I don't get too stressed out and fat while waiting for it to heal?

Out of Synch

Dear Out of Synch,

Injuries can happen even to the most careful physically active person. Though annoying, most injuries are neither serious nor permanent. However, an injury that isn't cared for properly (such as a stress fracture) can escalate into a chronic problem, occasionally serious enough to curtail the activity permanently.

Stress fractures are small cracks (fractures) in a bone that are usually caused by repetitive forces, such as those that result from running. Weakened bone unable to withstand the force arising from everyday activities can also lead to stress fractures (a problem for people with low bone mineral density or who have osteoporosis).

Have you consulted a health care provider about your stress fracture? If not, it's a good idea to seek medical attention to prevent further complications, including a full on broken bone. Your provider will probably ask you some questions, check out the area in pain, and order an X-ray, MRI, and/or CT scan. Depending on your particular case, stress fractures may require between two to twelve (or more) weeks to heal, and you’ll probably have to avoid non-weight bearing activities for some time. Your provider will be able to give you a better idea of how long you’ll have to stay on the sidelines. S/he may also suggest physical therapy.

In addition to seeing a health care provider, here is a four-stage process to keep in mind that can help you rehabilitate your body after a minor athletic injury:

  • Reduce the initial inflammation using the RICE principle. Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation
  • Restore normal joint motion. Normal joint motion means being able to move a healed body part with full range of motion.
  • Restore normal strength and endurance. During the rehabilitation process, your body will feel weaker and more fatigued because it's working hard to heal. Rest is imperative for successful healing, because as you slowly reintroduce movement and exercise, your body is working to rebuild strength and endurance.
  • Restore functional capacity. Restoring functional capacity involves gradually reintroducing the stress of your regular physical activity (in this case, jogging), until you are capable of returning to your full intensity. Before jogging full speed ahead, however, you need to have complete range of motion in your joints; normal strength and balance among your muscles; normal coordinated patterns of movement; no injury compensation movements, such as limping; and little or no pain.

Initially, you’ll likely need to find ways to move your body with minimal impact. Athletic trainers and other sports medicine professionals often prescribe pool work, such as swimming or pool running. Other suggestions might include yoga, Pilates, or a stretch class, depending on your health care provider’s advice.

During recovery it is key that you pay attention to your pain. Pain is your body telling you to stop. Once you're pain-free, you can consider stepping up your activity to biking or using an elliptical trainer. As you mentioned, stress plays a large role in healing. Tending to your mind as well as to your body is key, so increase your level of mental self-care. To prevent injuries in the future, follow a few basic guidelines when physically active:

  • Stay in condition; haphazard exercise programs invite injuries.
  • Warm up thoroughly before exercise.
  • Stay hydrated.
  • Use proper body mechanics when lifting objects or executing sports skills. An exercise physiologist or trainer can demonstrate proper body alignment and position for these activities that's appropriate for you.
  • Don't exercise when you're ill or over trained.
  • Use proper equipment and safety gear.

Don't return to your normal exercise program until after athletic injuries have healed completely. As soon as you can move freely with no pain, and when advised by your health care provider, you can give yourself the green light to go.


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