Crack! Stress fracture stealth attack

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.

One of these things is not like the other
One of these things is not like the other

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.

Back-to-school fashion.
Back-to-school fashion.

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.

Therapy in a bag.
Therapy in a bag.

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?

It's as snazzy as it looks!
It’s as snazzy as it looks!

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.

The velcro on your new "shoe" is hilarious, Mom!
The velcro on your new “shoe” is hilarious, Mom!

8 thoughts on “Crack! Stress fracture stealth attack

  1. Paige

    Hi Magdalena, I’ve been enjoying your blog, especially now that I am 16 wks pregnant — your experience has been so helpful to me! I just wanted to comment here because I’ve had a similar foot injury. I believe it was metatarsalgia. I’ve had 3 bouts (2x in 2006 about 6 mos apart, and 1x in 2011 — not sure if it was the same foot each time) with the same sudden onset without a clear trigger, bruising on top, and swelling. The first time it happened I was living in France and feared stress fracture, but self-treated and it went away within a few days without any further issues. What worked for me was self-massage, wiggling and stretching the toes, and occasional heat. Ice made it feel much worse. For my most recent bout, I took one day off and was fine for marathon training after that. Hope this helps. Thanks for blogging! 🙂


    1. magdalenadonahue

      Hi Paige, congrats on the pregnancy – I hope it’s going well and you’re [both] feeling well and healthy. Have you been able to run or stay active thus far? Pregnancy is such a terribly exciting adventure. Thank you for the insight about metatarsalgia. I am googling right now….It would be AMAZING if this foot thing would resolve with self treatment, and more quickly! I’m glad to hear that I’m not the only one who’s had multiple bouts of this style of injury; I’ve always had it in my left foot. I’ve been fracture-free since 2008, so I have been mystified and super bummed about this injury. Thanks so much, and good luck! 🙂

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  3. Hi! I just found your blog by googling metatarsal stress fracture. I’m not sure if I have one- no bruising, swelling, or specific moment of pain/injury- but I have a very tender spot on my second metatarsal that started after my long run last weekend. I found your post very interesting because I am also a new mom. My son is almost 14 months old and we are still nursing. I have been wondering why this could happen when I am not overtraining (my mileage has actually been low because I am tapering right now) and what you said makes perfect sense. I’m worried because I have a marathon on Sunday. It doesn’t actually hurt when I run, just afterwards, so I’m not sure if it’s a stress fracture or something else. Either way something’s going on with my body and I want to figure it out!

    1. magdalenadonahue

      Hi! I’m so glad you found my blog – and found it useful. (Sorry for the slow response, the babe and I have been on travel.) Yep, I’m not sure exactly how nursing, being post-pregnancy and running all combine, but I am sure there has to be a correlation between the fracture and baby circumstances. Right now I am working with my doctors to try to figure out how pregnancy, birth and nursing have affected my bone density. I’ll be posting on that as soon as I figure more out! How was your marathon? How’s your foot?! Congratulations on your 14-month old…mine just turns 15months in about a week; it’s such a fun and exciting age of exploration! Good luck with your running!

      1. magdalenadonahue

        ps: I’ve had a couple of stress fractures that hurt with a kind of deep, throbbing ache after running – not during. I think I just wasn’t quite at the total pain stage (not broken enough!) with those ones 🙂 I hope it resolves – or you get it checked out and can move forward with recovery.

      2. You aren’t late on replying- I just commented this morning 🙂 My marathon is this Sunday and I am going to take it easy this week and then give it a go. It’s not terrible pain at all and at the moment I don’t even feel it, so I’m hopeful! I’ll be following you and looking forward to your upcoming posts. I hope you heal up soon as well.

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