In the first part of our series on stress fractures, I talked about some of the possible contributing factors to this frustrating type of running injury.
These risk factors include decreased shock absorption, mobility restrictions, strength imbalances/limitations, and insufficient recovery.
As endurance athletes, the important thing to realize is that all of these problems can of course be solved. The biggest challenge is learning how to recognize what ‘normal’ looks like, so that you can identify problems that could end up developing to stress fractures early before they gain momentum.
Think of it like running down the wrong road. The further you get down that road, the more work you have to get back to where you were.
So let’s do a little self-evaluation…
1. Shock Absorption
Have you ever been to a professional track event or road race? One of biggest things you will notice is how quiet the athletes are on their feet. Whether it’s in the warm up or flat-out down the home stretch, they are almost silent on their feet.
Now leave the earbuds and music at home and compare that to your own running.
How loud are your footsteps?
Does that sound change as your speed goes up? Does it stay the same? If there are problems on how you are striking the ground, you will be able to hear them. You’re shooting for quiet steps.
2. Mobility Restrictions
When it comes to mobility, we are looking at four joints in particular: toes, ankles, knees and hips. Restrictions in any of these are going to force you to change how you move forward.
Typically, these compensations occur through rotation.
For example, instead of pushing off effectively through your big toe to propel yourself forward, you might twist off of your foot or hip to work around the restriction.
These little corrections can be sneaky and they don’t always show symptons. So, how do we spot them before stress fractures become a problem? One of the first things I like to do is get a visual.
I start by having my athletes lay flat on their stomach with their feet hanging off something like the picture below.
Do your feet point straight down towards the floor like in the first picture or do they twist in or out like the second two pictures?
This is a great way to get an idea if you have some extra rotation going on. If you do, then you can start looking closer to see where these restrictions might exist.
3. Strength Imbalances & Limitations
When it comes to strength, runners love to talk core workouts and planks. I like to look at their squat as it will tell me far more about their ability to use the big muscle groups together in a coordinated, functional movement.
A good squat requires good mobility at the ankles, knees and hips, as well as strength, postural control and core stability. In other words, everything needs to work together, much like running.
Here’s the overhead squat test:
- Stand tall with your feet shoulder-width apart and toes pointed forward.
- Lift your arms so that your elbows are straight and your arms are directly above your head.
- While maintaining that arm position, descend into a squat as deeply as possible with your weight on your heels.
- Hold the bottom position for a count of one, and then return to the starting position by pushing up through your heels.
4. Insufficient Recovery
When it comes to recovery, the first step is to realize that our sport only takes up part of our day. The rest of that day is spent running back and forth to work, family events, kids games, chores and errands.
All of these things, in addition to our actual training and racing, require recovery as they place stress on the body. In fact, one might even argue that life places more stress on our bodies than all of our training and racing combined. So how can we tell if we are doing too much?
- Poor sleep quality (inability to fall or stay asleep, increased tossing and turning, cramps at night.)
- Elevated resting heart rate
- Muscle fatigue/soreness (it’s one thing to be sore after a hard race or run, but after every run? That’s not the goal.)
- Overall health (frequent colds or worsening allergies.)
After running these tests, do you think you’re at risk for stress fractures?
Get ahead of it and take care of these issues before they progress.