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.

what to doooo with this boot

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.
  • 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!

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.

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

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