Stress Fractures in Disguise

The lovely bone scan machine What do you do when a stress fracture doesn’t ACT like a stress fracture? When I last updated this blog, I was pondering the “injury question mark”.   With my personality I tend to have the toughest time when things are up in the air. My mind tends to spin on questions that I have no way of answering (“Will this get better in a week or two? Can I get back into training without sacrificing too much fitness? Will I have to sit out the entire fall season??”). My leg was still hurting, but felt like it might be getting a tiny bit better since I’d been giving it some TLC and days off.   I was able to run on it, but not very well and not without discomfort.

As I mentioned in my last post, most of my symptoms were consistent with muscular injuries (sprains/strains/tears) and the area I was feeling the pain was deep in the calf. I could hop without pain, and I was still able to run.   My compression sleeve seemed to help.   It even seemed to warm up during the run and actually felt the best towards the end of the run. My running friends (and the sports doc herself) were almost positive it was muscular in nature and I’d be getting a negative result on the bone scan I’d requested.   But, as the title of the post suggests, that was not the case.

I agonized over having the bone scan – I even called and canceled it, and then had to reschedule! I hesitated in part because it was so expensive (thanks to a high deductible), and in part because I rationalized that it MUST be muscle since all of my symptoms were pointing towards a strained/slightly torn calf or posterior tibialis. The sports doc had diagnosed an irritated posterior tibialis several weeks ago. Plus, almost every runner I spoke to agreed with the “it’s muscle” diagnosis.

And yet….something still nagged at me that it may be more than just muscle. When I didn’t heal as quickly as I thought it should given the days off I’d taken and the cross training days, I decided to act on my gut and scheduled the scan.   I’m very glad I did.

See that white spot on my left leg?  Yeah...that's not a good thing.

Tibial Stress fracture/reaction. Ugh. During the bone scan I could see the screen and saw the area light up on my tibia. At that point I knew I wouldn’t be getting good news.   I went down to radiology after the scan and requested copies of my images. Sure enough, I could see the spot on my left leg with the increased uptake. I immediately started doing the math in my head for when I’d be able to run again (October best case, November worst case), and signed up for a cycle class the following day. Time to jump on the cross-training bandwagon!

I had to wait until I saw the sports doc on Thursday to get the official results. And when I did, I was pleasantly surprised. I’d been preparing for the usual stress fracture party line of “6-8 weeks no running” but my doc said that since I had listened to my gut and we caught this thing so early, I’d only need 3-4 weeks off before I could start easing back into running. While 3-4 weeks without running is still no picnic, it was SO MUCH BETTER than I had anticipated so I was (relatively) happy.

The marathon is still out of course, but I’m happy that I’ll be able to get back into training with enough time to build up a solid base before starting my training block for the spring marathon (Tobacco Road on March 15).   I am not going to go crazy on the cross training, but will try to do something (core work, Body Pump, cycle, walking) every day. I’m already counting the days until I can run again, and I’m most bummed about missing this wonderful fall weather we are starting to get. Those are some of my favorite days to run.  I’ve been keeping myself busy with studying my texts for my ACE group fitness instructor exam and trying to enjoy sleeping in a bit in the mornings.   I’d rather be running, but since I can’t, I’m trying to make the most of it!

I’m glad that I went ahead and got the scan and didn’t try to push through.   Most likely I would have rested for a week, run a bit, felt pain again, rested for another week, etc. – and limped along on it for another month or two before finally landing back in the sports doc’s office.   I could have set my recovery back by several months.

The moral of the story? If you have something that your gut tells you is wrong, or warrants further investigation, listen to it. Even though it can act like muscle, walk like muscle, and talk like muscle…..sometimes it’s not muscle.   You are the person that knows your body best. Trust your gut. We are all an experiment of one.

I’ll update soon on some of the cross-training I’ve been doing, as well as my own attempt at a root-cause analysis as to why this stress fracture happened in the first place (spoiler alert – I don’t really know and am frustrated).