Running Into Ankle Problems?

Long-distance running places severe stress on the feet and legs, which can increase the chances of injury. An ankle stress fracture is a possible injury that significantly impacts training and performance. Treatment for this condition usually involves rest, immobilization, and physical therapy (PT) to promote healing and restore strength and flexibility. The recovery time varies depending on the severity of the ankle fracture and individual health factors. After an injury, runners may be eager to get back to clocking those miles without pain. However, proper healing and rehabilitation are crucial to avoid re-injury and ensure long-term running success.


Understand stress fractures

An ankle stress fracture occurs when there is a small crack or break in a bone in the ankle. This injury is often caused by repetitive stress from activities like running or jumping. These activities produce significant downward forces on the bones, which can cause micro-damage over time. In a study on long-distance runners, 79% of the runners experienced an injury that required adjustments to training. Tibial stress fractures were the most common, with ankle fractures, plantar fasciitis, sprains, and ligament damage also commonly reported.

Factors influencing a return to running

After receiving the necessary treatment, runners must consider several factors before returning to long-distance running. The severity of the stress fracture is a significant factor in determining the overall recovery length. More severe fractures may require a longer recovery. Some rare cases require surgery, such as internal fixation, while milder fractures may heal more quickly. Individual factors such as age, overall health, and adherence to PT can also affect the athlete’s return. Patients should consult a healthcare professional, such as a physical therapist or orthopedic specialist, to determine the appropriate timeline for returning to long-distance running.

Back to running

Most doctors recommend 6-8 weeks of downtime to allow a stress fracture to heal. The goal is not to perform any long-distance running during this time when the bone is healing naturally. On average, runners can return to the sport shortly after recovery, sometimes within 3-4 months. Once cleared by a healthcare professional, proceed gradually. This means slowly increasing the intensity and duration of running to regain ankle strength. Starting with shorter distances and lower-intensity runs can help prevent further injury and ensure proper stress fracture healing. Listen to the body and be aware of any pain or discomfort during this gradual return to running. Avoid rushing the process or pushing through pain, as this can increase the risk of re-injury

Prevention tips and strategies

While there is no foolproof method for preventing ankle stress fractures, several tips and strategies can reduce the risk of injury. Maintaining proper form and technique during running is essential. This includes striking the ground with the midfoot or forefoot instead of the heel. This technique distributes impact forces more evenly throughout the foot and lower leg. Additionally, incorporating strength and conditioning exercises helps improve overall strength and stability. Lastly, take adequate rest and recovery days between training sessions.

Get ready to run

Long-distance running is a great way to stay in shape and improve stamina. There are also multiple distance races, such as marathons, meaning some athletes rack up hundreds of miles yearly. This overuse increases the chances of ankle injuries. Stress fractures require several weeks to heal, and even more time before an individual can return to running significant distances. The medical team will confirm when running is allowed. With a bit of patience, long-distance runners can minimize the risk of ankle stress fractures and enjoy the sport again with reduced chances of injury.

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