How to speed up stress fracture recovery

So, you got yourself a stress fracture. You probably found this blog post because you have been put into a boot or cast, can’t play your beloved sport, and are feeling thoroughly depressed. While being injured really sucks, there are things you can do to heal yourself both physically and mentally.

Keep in mind that a stress fracture is exactly as the name implies. It is not a bone that has been broken into pieces, but is fractured partially through. This may not be a clean cut, but may also be surrounded by micro-fractures. Think of the bone as now being extra porous, like a pumous stone. What your body must do to heal the fracture is fill in the cuts and pores and re-inforce the area by making an extra thick “collar” of bone matrix around the damaged areas. Stress fractures usually cannot be scene on X-rays until the collar has begun to be formed, after around 2-3 weeks. In order to heal the bone, your body obviously needs more of what bone is made of:

  • hydroxyapatite (made of calcium and phosphorous)
  • collagen (made of protein, especially the amino acids proline and glysine)
  • calcium carbonate
  • growth factors, like glycosaminoglycans, osteocalcin, osteopontin

the fuzzy part is the “collar

Before we talk about healing, I want to emphasize that a) I am not a doctor and you should consult yours before considering any of this advice and b) that unless you are in pain and really, really want to take over the counter anti-inflammatory drugs:

Avoid taking NSAIDS (Aspirin, Ibuprofen) at all costs during the healing process.

NSAIDS reduce pain by reducing inflammation. They achieve this by shutting down the COX-2 (cyclooxygenase) enzyme. While COX2 is responsible for the pain and inflammation, it is also the beginning of a long chain of events and enzymes that lead to healing. Inflammation, after all, is the flooding of an area with blood and cells to repair the damage. Shutting down COX2 = slowing down the healing process. 

Physical Healing

  • Bone Broths. In my opinion, the best way to provide your body with what it needs to repair bone and possibly up-regulate the enzymes responsible for bone growth and repair is to eat bones. What could be a better, more complete source of everything you need to heal? To make a bone broth, use the leftover carcass and bones from a chicken or roast. Place in a pot and cover with water and add 1 tbsp of vinegar. Bring to a boil and reduce the heat to a low simmer. Cover and let simmer for 12-24 hours. You will likely need to add more water if it gets too low.
  • Calcium Magnesium supplement. Calcium and magnesium should ideally be taken together, which can easily be done in a single supplement. Plus, magnesium can offset the constipating effect that calcium supplements can sometimes have.
  • Vitamin D3, A, K2 supplement. These three nutrients act synergistically together, meaning they are far more powerful together than they are individually. Personally, I used this one. Also, Vitamin D can help fight the depression that may come with being injured. It certainly helped me!
  • Horsetail. I purchased a horsetail tincture simply based on anecdotal evidence and one study done on rats that showed increased stress fracture healing due to its high silica content. Silica dioxide is found in bones and is major part of collagen. I gave myself a dose 1-3x per day. I purchased this one.
  • Milk Thistle Complex. I also purchased this supplement, which is typically used as a liver detoxifier, based on one study done on rats that showed increased fracture healing due to its silymarin content.
  • Homemade, raw yogurt. Raw, cultured yogurt is an awesome source of very bio-available calcium. Here is my post on how to make it yourself!
  • Plenty of protein and calories.  Whenever your body is repairing tissues or fighting off an illness, your protein needs are increased. All of the repairing and immune cells (as well as all cells) are made of protein, and you will need these in greater numbers than usual. Also, do not try to diet while in recovery. I don’t have a scientific study for this, but our hormones tend to act globally on the body. If you are in starvation mode, you are going to be catabolic (which means the state of breaking down tissues like fat and muscle). When you need to repair a bone, it makes sense to avoid catabolism and try to ere on the side of anabolism. You don’t need to stuff your face, but this isn’t the time to drastically cut calories or protein intake, despite the necessary decrease in activity. Just try to make the vast majority of your diet healthful, nutrient dense foods.
  • A safe level of activity. This completely depends on your stress fracture/s, current level of mobility and fitness, and doctor’s orders. In my case, being completely immobile was thought to be not ideal. Light weight-bearing activity can increase blood flow and help send the signal to the body that part of the body needs to be healed. I was able to partake in swimming, limited walking, and some safe exercises (abs, bench press, etc). However, I had to emphasize rest and avoid running, lifting, and CrossFit for 3 months. Well, hopefully… the “final” doc appointment is on Friday!
  • Get some sleep and avoid alcohol. Deep tissue healing occurs during deep sleep, so it is very important to make sleeping a priority. Alcohol also shuts down the healing process while it is in your system, so if you must drink, limit yourself to special occasions.

Mental Healing

Assuming you got the stress fracture because you were doing too much of an activity, you probably love whatever it is you were doing. Not being able to play your sport or do your thing can leave a painful void in your daily life, which is a major emotional hit. Instead, it is helpful to see your injury as an awesome opportunity to improve other areas of your life. Use the time that you would have been doing that activity to do something else that is productive and beneficial to yourself and/or others.

  • Be thankful. Be thankful that the injury wasn’t more serious and for what you do have. Start a gratitude journal and try to truly appreciate the fact that your stress fracture is temporary. Not all things are.
  • Volunteer! This was the best thing I did while recovering. Volunteering is not only a great distraction but also very fulfilling.  I volunteered a little bit feeding the homeless, which I enjoyed, but I fell in love with my second volunteer position because it more related to my passions. Once a week, I got to teach kids ages 6-14 at an after school program in the projects of Sacramento. I could choose any topic I wanted, so clearly I chose nutrition! We went over the food group basics, vitamin and mineral functions, sugar and its effects, and how to read food labels. Chobani even sent me over a free, giant case of Greek yogurt for the kids to try! I miss my kids!
  • Take up a new hobby or dive into your current ones. I had been thinking about giving clinical research a try, so I started interning at a research hospital for a couple months to see if it was something I would want to go into as a career. As it turns out, I’m not that into clinical research. I’d rather read the results ;)

Hand-tweezing human fat cells out of the fascia.

  • Read! Read whatever you love. Learn a new language. Get NASM certified to be a personal trainer.

Ironically, right around the time I got diagnosed with my two 2nd metatarsal stress fractures, Sun Chlorella sent me a box of Infuse Your Mood Tea to try. The tea comes from the eleuthero plant and is supposed to help improve moods and calm the body and mind. I am not usually an herbal tea fan since I like sweet, fruity teas, but the taste was pleasant and earthy. I didn’t notice a difference in my mood, but it certainly didn’t hurt! Tea can be a nice calming ritual before bed, and Infuse Your Mood is caffeine free.

I hope you all find this information helpful. If anyone has any additional tips or insights, please leave a comment! Happy healing. :)

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23 responses to “How to speed up stress fracture recovery

  1. your photo looks like “what to do with these abs of mine?!”

    • the abs have softened a tiny but it just shows that a mostly good diet and a minimal exercise regimen can do a decent job of maintaining fitness- even for three months of being mostly out of commission. :)

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  2. I really need to volunteer more often, it’s so refreshing. Do you ever think about becoming a teacher? Nutrition teacher / coach? You look like you would have an awesome time teaching the kiddies.

    • I am a life coach now but I never really considered teaching – Im not sure how much I would like that! I like coaching because its a bit of teaching and a lot of support and motivation.

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  3. What kind of exercises [weight training I'm assuming?] get those amazing abs!? Any tips?

  4. You have a great outlook on getting through this injury! I wish I were the same way . . . I’m so bummed that my shins have recently started bothering me. Great advice though, with a few ideas that I’m going to try out myself.

    • Oh I am so sorry to hear that! But it sounds like you are noting the pain BEFORE stress fractures (which may very well be on the way though if you don’t make some changes). Definitely avoid anything that has been causing pain for a couple weeks. You can still swim and maybe bike (?) and do most weight training exercises (I think – check!!). Never ignore your pain! You can avoid going through what I had to!

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  5. So glad you are getting better! I hope you get the ok this week :D

    I am going to be volunteering with kids nutrition-wise, too. How did you get the chobani? Is there a special program? Because I think it would be a great addition to my activities!

  6. Sable@SquatLikeALady

    GREAT POST! Everyone always asks me why I try reaaaally hard to avoid taking NSAIDs – this is exactly why. And I can vouch for the science behind all the physiology in this post!

  7. I’m going to assume that you can take that cast thing off your leg. I mean its not made of plaster is it?

  8. This was fun to read!

  9. Whoa! I feel like you’re speaking to me here. I’ve had shin splints since may and it still hurts even though I took weeks off running. I like the picture of the “collar”. Is that why my shin feels “crunchy” when I rub my finger on it?

    • Hmm interesting. I am not sure. If the collar is huge then maybee you could feel it? Have you seen a doctor? I hope it heals super quickly!! I know how hard it is. :(

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  10. From my experience with immobilizing injuries, the 8-pack is the first thing to go. I see that’s not the case with you, hahaha! I miss training with you on the regs, you should see how clumsy I am in the pool these days… Well good luck at the doctors today, and I hope to see you soon!

  11. True story! I’m really glad I came across this, it cheered me up a little. I’m on my third week of being nonactive and I know I’m almost there. During my time off from being on the go all the time I did learn how to appreciate the little things again. ( I got to catch up on all my shows & sporting events that I’m too busy to enjoy, attended a few family functions, which I normally don’t get to go because of work.). Wish the best of luck to everyone &
    Much Aloha’s!!

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  14. Thanks so much for this information! I have had shin splints for a year and have rested and tried a million creams, stretches, yoga, tablets etc and no improvement. I will try these recommendations. xx

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