Stress Fractures in Female Runners

 New studies have revealed that a lack of knowledge and overlooked physiological factors are two important reasons as to why we see more stress fractures in female runners as opposed to male. 

Over 50% of runners are female, and we are twice as likely to develop stress factors compared to men, which means a lot of us are getting injured when it could be prevented. Often studies of runners have been focused on elite athletes, but finally research has been developed on recreational runners so that we can find out how everyday people can improve their health and possibly reduce their chances of injury. 

What is a stress fracture? 

Stress fractures are tiny cracks in the bones that are usually caused by overuse and repetitive force, such as running. That being said, they can also occur in normal bones that have been weakened as a result of osteoporosis. 

More often than not, stress fractures occur in weight bearing bones in the lower body such as the hips, legs and feet. This is because these are the bones that take a lot of weight and impact when we run, walk, jump etc. 

Risk factors 

Unfortunately for us women, we are more likely to sustain stress fractures. One of the reasons being if you have irregular menstrual cycles. Estrogen is an important hormone for bone density and health, therefore if you have an irregular menstrual cycle and low levels of estrogen, this can have an impact on your bone health. 

Your weight can also affect your likelihood of stress fractures. If you have a low BMI and you are taking part in a repetitive sport such as running, all of that impact with very little lean muscle mass to protect the bones can only mean trouble. It's like having no cushioning around the bones and they are being slammed against a hard surface on a regular basis, they are going to crack.

How to prevent/reduces chances of stress fractures

According to the study, the main reasons that women were more likely to gain stress fractures was due to a lack of physiological examining and lack of knowledge on how to prevent them. This means that one things that could be done to tackle the issue is an increased amount of examining females that participate in sports, especially those that hold certain risk factors. That being said, unfortunately this is a wider problem to be solved, but there are things we can do as individuals to try and decrease our risk of stress fractures: 

Cross training 

This one is a biggie. Resistance training, lifting weights and building a bit of muscle around those bones is ESSENTIAL. One thing I notice with a lot of runners that I come across, especially female is that they don't take the time to cross train and only focus on running. As we can see from evidence above, we need to keep our bones and muscles strong in-order to reduce our chance of injury. 

This doesn't mean you need to be lifting super heavy weight, light weights and resistance bands will do the trick, but they are vital. Gaining more lean muscle mass will not make you bulky, but a better runner. 

Eating the right foods 

Like with everything to do with our health, nutrition plays a large part in our bone health and reducing the risk of stress factors. This is because healthy bones require a sufficient amount of calcium and vitamin D and if you aren't getting these key nutrients then you are reducing your chances of developing healthy bones. 

As well as this, in general it is important that you are filling your body with enough calories and nutrients when you are consistently running, especially if you are running a lot. Many females do not eat the required amount of calories they need to sustain their activity levels and this is what can lead to a lower BMI and therefore, increased risk of stress factors. So eat, you've earned it. 

Ease yourself in

If you're a beginner and you catch the running bug, you'll probably be itching to get outside and run as much as you can, but you need to be sensible and listen to your body. 

Stress fractures occur as a result of overuse, therefore if you have gone from very little running to a lot, you can imagine that this will have a lot of impact on your bones. This means that you need to take baby steps, and most importantly listen to your body. 

If you are feeling fatigued, or you can feel niggles occurring, don't run through the pain, rest. This is your body telling you it needs to heal and recover. These are the times when you can focus more on building up your strength through cross-training and ensuring that you are eating sufficient protein for recovery. In-order to be a good runner, it isn't just about the running.