Runners, like other athletes, are at risk of a range of repetitive stress injuries, including march fractures. March fractures refer to stress fractures of the metatarsal bones, a group of five long bones in the midfoot. Here are three things runners need to know about march fractures.
How does running cause march fractures?
Running puts a lot of strain on your metatarsal bones. Every time your foot hits the ground, your metatarsal bones are subjected to pressure. Your second and third metatarsals don't move much when you step down, though the other three are more mobile; this means that the former bones receive more stress than the others and are more likely to break.
Your foot type can also play a role. If you have flat feet, more of your midfoot comes into contact with the ground when you run, and this increased contact area strains your metatarsals. This foot type puts you at risk of developing march fractures, while people with normal feet have a lower risk of this injury.
What are the signs of march fractures?
If you develop a march fracture, you'll feel a dull pain in the middle of your foot. This pain will get worse while you're running, but when you're resting, it will feel better. You may notice pain outside of your workouts, like when you're walking or standing. The area around the fracture may also be swollen.
If you notice these symptoms, stop running and seek medical attention. March fractures don't always show up on x-rays, so your doctor may need to perform additional imaging tests like MRIs to diagnose your injury. One the fracture is identified, treatment can begin.
How are these fractures treated?
To prevent further damage, you'll need to stop running until your bones heal. Some metatarsal stress fractures are considered high-risk stress fractures, which means that they have a higher risk of not healing properly when compared to stress fractures in other parts of the body. If you continue to run, you could suffer serious complications like death of the affected bone.
To allow your bones to heal, you'll need to keep your weight off the affected foot. Your doctor may put your foot in a cast to immobilize it while it heals, or you may need to walk with crutches. This non-weight bearing period will last for several weeks to months; your doctor will monitor your bones and will let you know when you've healed sufficiently for the cast to come off.
If you experience pain in your midfoot while you're running, you may have march fractures and should see a podiatrist, like Dr. Lisa M. Schoene.