Recovering From a Stress Fracture: My Experience & A Guide for Others

Today marks the beginning of the final & 6th week in #dasboot. To be honest, I kind of can’t believe I only have a week remaining in this thing. The day I first strapped it to my leg, I thought, “well, shit. This is going to be the worst 6 weeks everrrrrr.” I was pretty crushed that a fall marathon would be out of the picture (I’m not crazy enough to attempt 26.2 after 6 weeks off.) But I’m happy to report that with a little bit of consistency and a cross-training plan that felt oddly similar to a running training plan, I’m making it through just fine. A big mental boost was reaching the halfway 3-week point and thinking, “that wasn’t so bad. I can do it again.”

Recovering From a Stress Fracture: Life In the Boot

An attempt at making the boot look fancy.

I think one of the most frustrating things when I first found out that I had a stress fracture was that no one seemed to have information collected about what you can and cannot do while allowing a fracture to heal. Sure, there’s a LOT of information out there. But not all of it sounded wise to me and a lot of it just sounded entirely mind-numbing. [The only exception to this being Camille Herron’s blog. I devoured her posts about her own experiences with stress fractures and found them really helpful. I can see why more than a few people recommended them to me.]

So, I set about collecting information that seems reputable and trustworthy. I gathered it for myself at first, but I want to share everthing that I’ve done in the past 5-6 weeks so that anyone out there dealing with a stress fracture can get a good picture of what they can do while injured. I’m not the type of person to just sit on my a** for 6 weeks & hope to stay in some kind of shape. I wanted to do everything I could to stay fit so that getting back to running wouldn’t be a complete strugglefest. I realize I am *also* not a doctor or therapist authorized to give this advice. Everything I’ve done to recover has been 100% pain free. If my foot hurt or was uncomfortable, I would stop. I think it’s important to keep moving through an injury as long as you’re not experiencing pain.

So, the first step was obviously following doc’s orders.

Checking the vitals:

  1. MRI – confirmed stress fracture in 2nd metetarsal on the left foot, possible neuroma in between 2-3 metatarsals
  2. Began wearing Aircast (AKA #dasboot)- ordered for 6 weeks non-weightbearing – Approved exercise included seated-only spin, pool running, and mat-based pilates.
  3. Bone density scan – completely normal result [This was more a precaution than anything – I have no history of female athlete triad problems, but checking bone density was a smart step to take.]
  4. Began taking 600 mg calcium 2 x a day, 1000 IUs vitamin D 1 x a day
  5. Blood test (Vit D & Ultimate Panel from InsideTracker) – more on this in a future post, but Vit D and calcium levels found to be in healthy range. [Note: If you’re interested in giving Inside Tracker a try, they’re giving my connections the best discount possible only through December 1, 2015! Use this code when checking out: “BFRJENNY”]

Next, I made a list of things I *could* do instead of thinking about the one thing that I couldn’t. So, I decided to …

GivE Pool Running A Shot:

I decided that in addition to spinning (only seated; standing was ruled out because it’s weight-bearing), I wanted to give pool running a try. I’d never done it before and from everything I read, it was an activity that would keep my running-specific muscles in shape without impact on my foot. My first trip to the pool was pretty comical. It was a gorgeous Chicago summer day. The public pool in my neighborhood was fairly busy in the later afternoon. While the shallow end was full of kids splashing around, the ‘grown up’ area in the deep end was …completely empty. Adults were sunbathing on the pool deck and I sauntered in wearing my boot and carrying an AquaJogger a friend let me borrrow (thanks Lynton!). I’m fairly certain that at least 70% of the pool goers thought that I couldn’t swim and actually needed the AquaJogger to enjoy the deep end. In fact, I am able to swim. 🙂

2015-09-15 15.50.45-1

I wrapped my iPod cord around my ponytail and clipped it to my hairband. Works wonders for pool running!

That day, I did 30 minutes of ‘easy pool running’ and it felt like I had gone for a long run of at least 90 minutes. It’s definitely not easy and it takes a little getting used to, but once you get your balance and your body gets used to the movement, it’s a great workout.

I was really looking forward to getting some fresh air while doing workouts at the outdoor pool, but it closed for the season on Labor Day. For a small fee, I added another one of my gym’s locations to my current membership in order to use their indoor pool. Logistically, it’s more difficult but well worth it.

*Note: an unexpected hassle of all of this cross-training is that I have to constantly work around the group fitness schedules for the spin room and the pool. I didn’t want to attend a spin class and be the only one seated for the duration (even though I’m sure the instructors would understand) and I don’t want to get in the way of others doing swim workouts in the pool. I put workouts on my calendar just as I would work meetings because of these conflicting schedules!

Here are some helpful pool running resources I found:

Cross-Training Plan:

The first few weeks, I struggled to find the motivation to actually commit to a cross-training and strength-training routine. I wallowed a little bit while I collected resources & tried to figure out what I wanted to do. Looking back on my training log, though, I’m actually surprised I dragged myself to the gym after just two days in the boot and then to the pool for my first pool running workout just two days after that. In the first week, I had my MRI & bone scan — and spent much of the rest of the week pretty bummed.

Here’s a short synopsis of the cross-training I’ve done the past 5 weeks:

Week 2: 
Monday – 1 hr spin

Tuesday – 45 min spin + 30 min Pilates abs DVD

Wednesday – 1 hour spin with 10 x 2 min sprints, 1 min RI + 25 min core & glute strength routines

Thursday – 36 min pool run – 2 x (6 x 1:30 hard, 30 sec RI) + 30 min glute & arm strength routines

Remainder of week – traveling to Copenhagen! 

Week 3: entire week in Copenhagen on vacation! No exercise

We spent at least 6-7 hours of each day walking around the city. Because I was on my feet so much (in the boot the whole time), I didn’t have much energy to workout in the hotel gym. I slept soundly, enjoyed every single delicious meal, and enjoyed time off.

This vacation had been on the calendar for months but I think having a getaway while injured is a great idea. Getting completely away did wonders for my mood & distracted me from thinking about how many more days I had left in the boot. Put fun things on the calendar if you can!

Week 4: Back to it!

Monday– Rest + jet lag

Tuesday– 80 min spin

Wednesday – 90 min spin + 30 min strength (core, arms, glutes/hips)

Thursday – 45 min strength (Pilates DVD + random YouTube videos – this channel is particularly challenging and has a lot of workouts that can be done while injured)

Friday – 60 min spin + 20 min core strength

Saturday– REST

Sunday – REST

Week 5:

Monday – 60 min spin with 12 x 2 min hard spints, 1 min RI

Tuesday – 45 min pool run (ladder workout) + 35 min strength (core, glutes/hips, arms)

Wednesday – 90 min spin endurance

Thursday– REST

Friday – *55 min pool run (8 x 2:30 hard, 1 min RI) + 90 min spin (endurance with 10 x 1 min sprints at finish) = 2 hours 25 min cross-training session!

Saturday – REST – so much fun with friends in town & spectating Corey’s tri + beer festival

Sunday – REST

*I made a point to do one longer cross-training session this week to replicate the feeling of a long run. Splitting it up between the pool and the spin room was nice. I listened to my iPod in the pool and to a few podcasts on the bike so that the time would pass quickly. I definitely left the pool feeling like I worked hard. And the next day my legs were sore for the first time in weeks. Success!

Week 6: 

Monday – 75 min spin inc. 10 x 3 min sprints, 2 min RI (almost almost almost felt like 10 x 800s!)

Tuesday – 55 min pool run (2 sets 8 x 1:30 hard, 0:30 sec RI) +

Wednesday* – 60 min spin + 30 min strength (core, hips/glutes, arms)

Thursday *– 60 min pool run including 45 min ‘steady’ + 30 min Pilates core DVD

Friday* – 60 min pool run (7 x 5 min hard, 1 min RI) + 90 min endurance spin

Saturday & Saturday – REST + fun plans!

*Wednesday-Friday = what I have planned the remainder of this week

Once I got into a routine, I found it pretty easy to do 5-6 hours of cross-training a week and commit to strength training.

Don’t get me wrong. There have been some days when the absolute LAST thing I want to do is go to the spin room at my gym or take the bus to the pool to run. I miss my favorite running routes and especially the lakefront, especially given that it’s been so nice out lately. But lacking motivation to work out isn’t far off from a normal training cycle, especially when training for a marathon. It’s not all going to feel good and you’re not always going to want to do the work.

Strength training:

I had to modify some of my strength routines slightly to be non-weightbearing. I cut my hip/glute strength routine down to just two simple exercises because the rest of them put pressure on my foot. I know that once I’m cleared for normal exercise, I need to vigilant about committing to that routine again. The core routine is pretty similar to what I was already doing but I swapped out a few exercises. (Example: hip bridges were swapped for other exercises because I normally do these on a single leg – and didn’t want to put all of my weight on my left, injured foot.)

MODIFIED CORE ROUTINE:
  1. Slow bicycle
  2. Side plank – on knees!
  3. Bird dogs
  4. Leg lifts
  5. Locust pose/ Superman
  6. Australian crawl – (swim freestyle on stomach)
  7. Donkey kicks – 15-20 each leg
  8. Pushups with bent knees
  9. Side crunches- obliques
  10. Crunches with knees up – chair or couch
  11. Long lever crunches
MODIFIED Hip/Glute Routine:
  1. Clamshells with resistance band
  2. Lateral leg lifts

“Return to Running” Plans:

This advice is completely premature, as I’m not out of the boot quite yet. That said, this return to running plan caught my eye. A lot of others I found didn’t seem suited for a somewhat competitive runner. This seems like a conservative plan that aims to get you back to a full hour of pain-free running in about 7 weeks.

Screenshot 2015-09-24 16.03.00

My list of RECOVERY SANITY TIPS:

  1. Do something OTHER than obsessing about not being able to run. I picked up 2-3 books that I’ve been meaning to read and enjoyed actually having the time to read them! We fill our time so much with running sometimes that we forget there are other ways to enjoy an evening. I also went to a concert, joined some friends at a beer festival, celebrated a friend’s engagement, and scheduled dinners with friends on nights when I’d normally be running. 6 weeks is a good mental and physical reset.
  2. Podcasts podcasts podcasts, music music music. I listened to music in the pool and podcasts on the bike. There’s endless entertainment to get through hours of cross-training.
  3. Drink beer. There’s really nothing more I should have to say about that!
  4. Especially if you’re wearing a boot, wear a shoe with a heel or higher stack height on the opposite foot. I attempted to wear flats for all of 2 days after I started wearing the boot and my back was already noticeably sore. If you wear a higher shoe on the opposite foot, your hips won’t be all out of wack. (I was tired after walking so much in Copenhagen but not nearly as much as I would have been had I’d worn a flat.) ALSO – if you’re using the standard Aircast, buy a cheap insole to stick in the bottom of it. The boot itself is completely flat, so my doctor advised me to buy an insole so that my arch didn’t become sore and cause other problems. 2015-09-25 12.54.31 2015-09-25 12.55.22
  5. Complain to people that love you – to a point. A group message with friends can really help your mood when you’re feeling down and out. I tried not to complain about my own situation but whenever I did, I felt like my friends were there to make me laugh and ultimately get through 6 weeks without going crazy.
  6. Think about what your next race might be but do NOT register for it. I’m reminding myself of this even more now that the boot is close to going in the trash :fingers crossed: At first, I thought, “Oh, well I can definitely run a half before the end of 2015!”. Now, I feel like the last thing I want to do is rush back into a training plan. I’m looking at a run/walk plan for the first 4 weeks that includes 1-2 rest days between every single run before I get back to a normal schedule again. I’ll register when I feel ready but I haven’t spent much time dreaming about racing lately.
  7. Know that a lot of other runners have ‘been there, done that’! I was surprised at the number of strangers that asked me what happened to my foot and had a story of their own to share. While I didn’t really welcome it at first, it gradually started to make me feel like I wasn’t alone and that 6 weeks isn’t an eternity. Know that your life will still carry on and there are so so so many more miles to run in the future.

In my last post, I wrote: “I figure I either have 6 weeks to get a 6 pack OR 6 weeks to drink a many 6 packzzzz. I have a feeling those goals are not simultaneously compatible, but I think I’m up for the challenge, as always.” I can’t say whether or not I have a 6 pack and I lost count of how many 6 packs I consumed in 6 weeks so… let’s just say I’m feeling much better about running and *enjoying it* the rest of this year.

I hope this post helps someone else recovering from a stress fracture!

-J

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25 thoughts on “Recovering From a Stress Fracture: My Experience & A Guide for Others

  1. Rungry says:

    I had a stress fracture in my left tibia last year. My time off from running ended up being around 5 months but I was able to use the elliptical and bike during my time off. I didn’t have access to a pool but I did a lot of workouts on the stationary bike alternating 1 mile easy with 2 miles hard.

    Also, love what you say about enjoying some time off. We were up in Chicago last summer for a wedding on the same weekend as the Rock ‘n Roll half marathon. I ended up having to DNS the race but I had an awesome time at the wedding and was happy to sleep in and enjoy the city a bit more instead of racing.

  2. Pete B says:

    Happy to hear you had a good attitude during your downtime. Like you said, pretty much every runner has been in a similar situation, you’re not alone and six weeks definitely is not an eternity. The best thing I’ve ever done is to take a 2 to 3 year outlook on running and goal setting. Building a good solid base takes time with small mileage increases and slightly harder workouts from month to month. Also, run/walking is an excellent way to train and even race. I ran/walked the Boston Marathon and missed BQing there by less than a minute. Thanks, for the pool running tips. I need to tuck them away for when I do some post-marathon recovery workouts! Good luck with your recovery!

    • @jennypoore says:

      That’s so smart. I think a lot of us get frustrated when we don’t see results in racing after a single training cycle. It’s definitely been a weird road for me the past 2 years – hoping to piece some good workouts together in the spring! And damn, you ran/walked Boston?! Impressive!

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  4. Alyssa Czerniak says:

    Can you give any advice on how to create a base building plan for this winter in Chicago? I’m kind of a crazy planner and don’t like the idea of just going out there and winging it until it’s x-number of weeks out from a race and I can formally start following a plan.

    PS I love your blog and I also follow you on Insta! Hope that’s not to creepy! I just love watching a fellow Chicagoan kick ass, it’s definitely motivating!

    • @jennypoore says:

      Hey Alyssa! Thanks for commenting 🙂 Always good to connect with a Chicagoan, especially when you’re gearing up to train through the winter. What type of plan are you following now? And what race are you base-building for this winter?

      • Alyssa Czerniak says:

        It definitely takes some courage to battle winter out here! In 2016 i’m planning to run the Rock n’ Roll Half as well as the Chicago Marathon. As for a plan currently, I don’t really have one. I’ve just been trying to stick to running consistently 3-4 times a week. I’d like to build that up to longer runs and more workouts but with the two races so far out, i’m unsure how to really plan out my weeks until then. I don’t want to over train but I want to run quality races, not just finish them so I want to make sure i’m making the most of my time now!

  5. eliseyanover says:

    Hey. I’m 6 weeks in for metatarsal stress fracture. I was in boot for just under 4 weeks. By 5 weeks I was walking fine. Now at 6 weeks it’s getting there but full pressure on it still hurts as does a light hop.
    Are you back to walk run yet? If so how long did it take?
    I hope it’s just another two weeks or so. The precor elliptical is fine but the life fitness one which is a bit bouncier hurts a bit.
    Just wanted to see if you are back running…….
    Getting frustrated although I’ve been cycling and doing weights .

    • @jennypoore says:

      Hi Elise – I’m sorry to hear you’re still dealing with pain/discomfort. I know the whole process isn’t fun. After 6 weeks in the boot, I started the run/walk program within a few days. The first few weeks were 100% run/walk so that I could monitor the pain on the walking sections. I’m now up to 50 minutes straight running for one ‘longer’ run per week (and everything is still time-based, to be on the conservative side). Most of my other runs are somewhere between 30-40 minutes. That said, obviously everyone is different and heal in different ways. I only started to/run walk once I was cleared with a hop test and with added pressure by my doctor. Hang in there – I know it doesn’t help, but it’s only just a matter of time. Do you have access to a pool to do some pool running?

      • eliseyanover says:

        Hey thanks for your reply. Wow 6 weeks and fit to run? Maybe that’s cuz you did 6 weeks in the boot! I did close to 4. I don’t have much pain to palate but the hop isn’t perfect so I’m going to wait and test that again next week.
        As for the pool….. It’s not ideal for pool running. Very small section of a deep end. I’ve been cycling mostly.
        Yes it’s hard to wait. I had a pelvis one on May 2014 and that took 17 weeks so this 6-8 thing isn’t as bad.
        Did you have any discomfort when you got back to walk:run?
        I don’t have great stability in my foot to begin with which is why I think this happened after a season of 5km’s and speed work .
        So some of my pain is normal unstable foot pain but I have to make sure it’s not the bone stuff !
        Glad you are back ….. It’s so frustrating sometimes.

  6. @jennypoore says:

    Yeah, 6 weeks in the boot and 8 weeks on a return to running program (the one mentioned in this post). It hasn’t been all sunshine and rainbows, but starting to feel pretty decent just this week and last. I didn’t have much discomfort in my foot when I started to run again. Just kind of a dull ache, but my doc told me that’s entirely normal and I kept the discomfort at a 3 out of 10. I hope you start to feel better soon!!

    • eliseyanover says:

      Thanks. Good luck to you too.
      Yes I do expect some aching and will keep that in mind but I won’t try to re hop again until next week then reasses.
      Take care and hope you stay injury free!

  7. sjpc14 says:

    interesting post, i am currently out with a stress fracture of the shine and havent run since early September. Sooo looking forward to running again.

    Did you find it impacted on your performance at all ?

  8. Rheigel Golosino says:

    Hi Jenny,
    I hope that I found out you blog the soonest I got this injury.
    I don’t know if I’m dealing tibial stress fracture or just shin splint.
    It’s particular in one place that if I press it, there is a little pain just like pressing a bruise. but very little pain. I can do some weight lifting, jumping and walking.
    But sometimes that area of my shin does hurt randomly and that’s what I’m afraid of I don’t want to go to physio yet because they might said the same thing I red on the internet I’m on a tight budget right now still a student.
    I’ve done my own research but I’d like to ask you because you are “been there, done that”. I’m also a victim of “running too soon” because of the half marathon but good thing I was able to set a new pr and it feels good but I feel bad for my injuries.
    Does your stress fracture hurt also randomly in the particular area?
    Please give me advice.

    Thank you and have a nice day Jenny!

    • @jennypoore says:

      Hi Rheigel, I’m so sorry you’re experiencing pain. I really can’t provide any medical advice, but I’m happy you found the post helpful. I would recommend going to the doctor — I know that’s easier said than done. I will say that I did experience some discomfort (not pain) when I started running again. From what I’ve read and what my doctor told me, some discomfort is normal — but anything beyond 2-3 out of 10 on a pain scale should signal you to stop. Please go see a doctor and try to not rush the healing process!

      • Rheigel Golosino says:

        Hi Jenny,

        I’m back to running and I also have your “return to running plan” but I dont have a pool or bike so I just do strength and core exercises in the house on my rest day. Is it normal if you press your injury you will still feel a little pain?
        Thanks!

  9. Molly says:

    I am on week 7 of a metatarsal fracture. I found your article so so helpful because I am literally going crazy. I have been spinning and swimming, but I hate swimming. I am so tired of sitting on the bike and it just doesn’t feel as good of a workout as running even though most say that it is. My orthopedist did not give me a boot. Some days walking seems not to bother it while others it definitely causes pain. Do you have any idea when I could start running again? Most places online say 8 weeks.

    • @jennypoore says:

      Hi Molly – I’m sorry to hear you’re dealing with a stress fracture. Did your ortho give you a reason as to why he/she didn’t give you a boot? I only ask because I think it’s typical treatment for a stress fracture in the foot. I can’t provide any kind of medical advice, other than to say that you should only start running when you aren’t experiencing any pain. Scheduling a follow-up with your ortho is a good idea. The advice I’ve shared with others is to go very slow once you do get started running again. It took me 3 months to get back up to an hour of running — and it was so worth it! Don’t rush the healing process!

  10. TeenRunner says:

    Hiya! I’m in exactly the same shoes (well, boot!) as you! Mine’s on the second metatarsel and because I’ve never had an injury like this it’s great to hear from someone else whose gone through exactly the same thing. So I just want to say thank you really, and I hope your training is going well now x

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