First described by the Prussian physician Breithaupt in 1855, the stress fracture is quite common in military recruits and athletes. The injury usually affects the lower extremities, but it may also appear in the ribs and the upper extremities. The most common locations for this injury are the tibia, fibula, metatarsals, and navicular bones; however, it may as well affect the femur, sacrum, and pelvis. It is quite common on the calf bone or fibula. A stress fracture can be quite painful and requires quick attention.
Symptoms and Causes of Fibula Stress Fracture
Located on the lateral side of the tibia, the fibula can sustain an injury when engaging in sporting activities. If you have a stress fracture, you may experience sharp pain at the location. The pain increases with physical activity, especially when you put weight on the leg. At the point of fracture, you may experience some tenderness as well.
An excessive pulling or twisting force on the bone may result in a stress fracture. This usually happens when the associated leg muscles do not function at full capacity and exert more pressure on the fibula during movement. Your fibula stress fracture may be the result of a single accident or it may develop due to stress over time.
Overuse factors also play a role here. You are more likely to develop a fracture if you do not stretch important muscles before starting an activity. Exercising when your muscles have already become fatigued may also result in an injury. Worn or inappropriate footwear also make you more susceptible to developing a fibula stress fracture. If your foot rolls inwards when you walk or run, this puts excess pressure on the muscles and increases your risk of getting a fracture.
Why Runners Are at a Greater Risk?
Bones become stronger when you increase pressure on them gradually. However, bones are not like muscles and tendons, and take months to become stronger and be able to handle increased level of stress. During the early stages, your bone becomes weak after being under stress for an extended time. It loses its walls before putting in new, stronger ones. Athletes are more likely to get an injury during that phase.
Treatment of a Fibula Stress Fracture
Depending on the severity of your fibula stress fracture, it may take anywhere between 4 and 12 weeks to notice improvement. You need to reduce your activity level and take plenty of rest until pain subsides a bit. It is important to talk to your doctor and seek medical assistance as soon as you sustain an injury. Any delay will result in prolonged return to activity.
Here are some other steps to take:
- Make use of crutches in the beginning to avoid putting too much weight on your affected leg.
- Learn to stretch the muscles of your lower leg to accelerate recovery.
- Wear ankle support or use a heat retainer to provide some support to the muscles of your lower leg.
- Consult with a professional and get sports massage to accelerate recovery.
- Take OTC painkillers to alleviate pain and swelling.
- Start a rehab program comprising of stretching and strengthening exercises to regain strength, flexibility, and balance.
Stress Fracture Prevention Strategies
Dealing with a fibula stress fracture can be a painful experience, so it is always better to take steps to lower your risk of developing a stress fracture.
1. Always Listen to Your Body
Do not train through pain. You have to understand that pain is your body's way to tell you that something is not right and it needs rest. When you become tired, your running mechanics change and you lose proper form. You have to work with a professional and design your running or training program in a way that you have adequate recovery time. You have to talk to your therapist or healthcare provider the moment you experience the pain on the outside of your lower leg or ankle. They will tell you what measures to take to avoid a future injury.
2. Deal with Over Pronation
When your foot over pronates, you need to take certain steps to limits its effects. You need to work with a specialist to increase ankle mobility. Learn exercises for ankle strengthening as well as arch and foot intrinsic muscle strengthening. Also, pay attention to your posture, increase cadence, and perform exercises to strengthen your hip abductor and glute to avoid injuries.
3. Increase Training Gradually
Sudden increase in the intensity of your training will also lead to injuries. You should never increase your activity or running by more than 10% a week. It means that if you are running 15 miles today, you should only add 1.5 miles to it in the next week.
4. Consider Cross-Training
Runners often make mistakes of sticking to one exercise only to hit their mileage goals, but that makes them more susceptible to injuries and fractures. Running puts repetitive stress on your joints and bones. This may lead to muscle imbalance and make you deal with stress fractures. Including another exercise in your routine will help immensely. Anything like tennis, yoga, swimming, weight lifting will work just fine.
5. Wear Appropriate Footwear
If you love running, you have to love your shoes as well. Be willing to invest in a pair of high quality shoes. Your shoes have a huge impact on running mechanics. You need to select shoes considering your arch and special needs. It is usually a better idea to select neutral or minimalist style shoes than using stability shoes and arch supports.
If you have been wearing cushioned and highly supportive shoes for quite some time, a quick transition to barefoot style shoes may increase your risk of getting a stress fracture. A better idea is to use a variety of training shoes and rotate them nicely. This will prevent excessive pressure on any specific muscle group or joint.