It is four weeks away from the 12th Steamtown Marathon. After training all spring and summer for the first 7 Steamtown Marathons, not a Columbus Day Weekend goes by without my thoughts of this great event. I am writing this column on a plane to Greece, where I plan to visit (and run) the original road from the town of Marathon to Athens. This will be the first of four columns dedicated to those dedicated runners preparing for the big day.
I would like to introduce this topic with some marathon history. In 490 B.C. Athens was under attack by the Persians and was outnumbered more than two to one. The Athenians fought bravely and defeated the enemy in the town of Marathon to keep the intruders 26 miles away from their families in Athens. To keep the anxious citizens of Athens calm, leaders immediately ordered a foot soldier, Phedippides, to the capital to share the news. Phedippides ran, in full armor, for 26 miles from Marathon to Athens, delivered the message and died immediately. Now, people do the same thing of their own free will!
Each year at this time, dozens of runners preparing for the Steamtown Marathon come to my office with severe shin pain known as shin splints. Unfortunately, in many of these athletes, this problem can lead to a much more severe and advanced problem with shin splints called a stress fracture. Some very good athletes have been hindered by this problem.
A stress fracture is fatigue damage to bone with partial or complete disruption of the cortex of the bone from repetitive loading. While standard x-rays may not reveal the problem, a bone scan, and MRI will. It usually occurs in the long bones of the leg, mostly the tibia but also the femur (thigh) and foot. Occasionally, it occurs in the arm.
10-21% of all competitive athletes are at risk for stress fractures. Track, cross country and military recruits are at greatest risk. Females are twice as likely as males to have a stress fracture. Other athletes at risk are: sprinters, soccer and basketball players, jumpers, ballet dancers are at risk in the leg and foot. Gymnasts are also vulnerable in the spine while rowers, baseball pitchers, golfers and tennis players can experience the fracture with much less frequency in the ribs & arm.
The problem is much more prevalent in weight bearing repetitive, loading sports in which leanness is emphasized (ballet, cheerleading) or provides an advantage (distance running, gymnastics).
Stress fractures usually begin with a manageable, poorly localized pain with or immediately after activity such as a shin splint. Over time, pain becomes more localized and tender during activity and then progresses to pain with daily activity and at rest.
Visit your doctor regularly and listen to your body.