Two weeks ago, after finishing a great workout, I was high-stepping across the dewy grass of the track infield to my car. It was 7 am, and I was feeling giddily triumphant about controlling the mental aspects of what was a hard workout. As I bounced through the grass, I felt a sudden sharp pain in my left foot. Startled, I stopped prancing, limped back to my car, drove home, and examined my foot.
Within an hour, I had developed a dark blue bruise, and my foot was tender to walk on, although the initial sharp pain faded to a steady ache. Unsure as to whether I had done something serious (broken/torn/ruptured something), or had just tweaked something, I took a couple days off. The bruise faded to greenish yellow. My foot was sore, but not unbearable. I aqua jogged. All signs pointed to a stress fracture, and I looked the other way in denial.
Walking barefoot around the house a few days later, I felt another sharp pain and another bright blue-purple bruise appeared. With a sinking feeling, I decided that I had better face up to my fear that I had sustained a metatarsal stress fracture. One xray session later, the doctor confirmed I had a hairline fracture in my left 2nd metatarsal, was given a flat walking shoe and told to take 2-6 weeks of no high-impact activity, limited walking and lots of RICE.
Just as I was really starting to get into my training groove, injury strikes. I was totally blindsided by this injury. I’ve had a number of stress fractures through my collegiate and post-collegiate running career. Often, leading up to stress fractures, the sufferer feels a deep aching pain and soreness at or near the point of injury. I had felt no pain, and in fact was marveling at just how awesome my body was feeling! To go from feeling great to broken is never fun.
How have I been coping? Well, first I ate an entire bag of these dainties while muttering less than polite terms (out of earshot of my baby, of course!) in the direction of my aching foot. Realizing that existing on chocolate peanut butter pretzels was not feasible, my analytical side kicked in, and I started trying to evaluate what may have caused my fracture.
A common reason of metatarsal stress fractures in runners is overuse. I have been running 40-50 miles per week, which is not (on my scale) a huge amount of mileage. However, I am returning to running after an extended layoff (pregnancy & recovery), so my “high mileage” scale may have shifted during this time, resulting in my body feeling that 40-50 mpw is too much. A big factor for me, I believe is being post-partum and breastfeeding. Breastfeeding uses a lot of nutrients, and calcium is a prime nutrient that gets used by both mother and child. Bone loss may also be added into the mix for me. Breastfeeding also means that my body is producing high amounts of relaxin, a hormone that, in part, allows for greater laxity in joints to help with childbirth; could the different hormones have changed the fine-tuned strengths and balances of muscles, tendons and joints within my foot, allowing for a structure that may have promoted fracture?
I hope to explore these questions further in the weeks ahead as I swap my running for aqua jogging, swimming and cycling.
Do any of you runners have experience with post-partum stress fractures? Any scientist-runners want to weigh in on potential triggers? I would appreciate your insight, and enjoy hearing your experiences.
In the meantime, I’ve plenty of things to distract me: the fall semester starts today at the University of New Mexico, and I’m headed back to research and teaching for the fall semester, and our 1-year-old daughter is running, walking, and babbling her way happily through life, keeping us busy and my spirits up.