Although running is generally good for you, runners are prone to a number of injuries, most of which are overuse injuries, which means that they stem from excessive strain on the bones, ligaments, or muscle. One of the most feared overuse injuries among runners is the metatarsal stress fracture. This is a fracture of one of the metatarsal bones, which lie in the forefront. A stress fracture can be really painful, and it can keep you out of training for six weeks or more. For these reasons, you should know how to identify and prevent stress fractures as a runner.
How to Identify a Stress Fracture
The key symptom of a stress fracture is a pain in the forefront of the foot. Often, this pain will develop gradually. You might notice it towards the end of one run, and then over a week or more, it will get more intense. Eventually, the pain will occur even when you are not running.
A stress fracture also makes your forefoot tender to the touch. There will be a particular area which, if you touch it, will develop sharp pain. You may or may not notice any swelling. Some runners notice that their foot appears swollen when they get up in the morning, but that it dissipates as they are more active during the day.
If you do believe you have a stress fracture, contact a podiatrist. They can x-ray your foot to confirm the diagnosis. Luckily, treatment is pretty straightforward. You'll need to ice your foot, keep off it as much as possible, and take at least six weeks off from running.
How to Prevent a Stress Fracture
Of course, it's better to prevent a stress fracture in the first place. Since stress fractures are an overuse injury, you can prevent them by avoiding overuse. Do not increase your training volume too quickly. (The general guideline is to increase your mileage by no more than 10% per week, and introduce any speedwork slowly.) Run more of your miles on softer surfaces, like grass or a track, to reduce the trauma on your forefoot. Also, make sure you are wearing shoes with ample padding. Running a lot of miles in older shoes or shoes that are not designed for running can result in more stress on your metatarsal bones.
Although stress fractures are common in runners, they are not that tough to prevent. Keep the information above in mind as you train and race.