My story with stress fractures started at the peak of my running career. I had just done a 2:40 at the Marine Corps Marathon and was feeling faster than ever. My nutrition was more about just sustaining the energy to get through workouts than to repair my body which was one of my biggest mistakes. I transferred from running on the treadmill to running outside for the first time in months because it finally was nice outside…I decided to do 2 mile repeats, 4 of them on hard pavement. That is when it happened without warning at the end of the fourth 2 mile repeat I felt something wasn’t right and was uncomfortable. I started to jog and the pain in my lower left back/sacrum area was horrible but I managed to jog the quarter mile home. First thought, muscle pull and I couldn’t have been more wrong. I took a day off, iced, NSAIDS, etc. Went to run on Saturday to see about my long run and it was the most painful 10 miles I have ever gone through and I had to stop. I could barely walk. Boom, a week later I went to see a doctor and got an X-ray first (negative) and then a bone scan which confirmed a sacral stress fracture in the left ala. Just like that – I was devastated. Banging out 12 milers at 5:38/mile pace and now I could barely walk.
A sacral stress fracture has its advantages and disadvantages in regards to healing. The fracture is in an area of the body that is well supplied by blood which is the number one thing that can help speed up stress fracture healing, blood supply. But, the negative is that your sacrum moves with just about every movement so it is hard to immobilize unless you are just sitting there the whole day which is what I ended up doing. My medical school studying suffered and I felt my world was crashing down around me. My hunger felt unstoppable because I was use to eating to maintain a 10+ mile run practically everyday. I couldn’t even cross train for awhile. Devastation was an understatement for where I was – very dark times.
I managed to hobble around for about 2 weeks and then slowly the pain diminished and I was able to walk without pain but I was still favoring it. Sacral stress fractures are notorious for being nagging because they are so difficult to fully immobilize like a femur or tibia stress fracture. I was finally able to cross train and I cycled and swam which I did find a little love for swimming but came to despise cycling indoors…its the truth…it was horribly boring and miserable. But, it helped keep my endorphins going a little and keep me from gaining weight quickly.
At about 5.5 weeks out from a horrible sacral stress fracture – I was able to run. My mistake was that I came back a little too quickly and ramped up the mileage within 2 weeks too quickly because I got excited and I felt a little pain after about 2 weeks. So, I stopped and saw another sports medicine doctor who basically just allowed me to get an MRI (should have been done from the start). The MRI was basically inconclusive but it did show increased white in the left sacral ala/wing meaning that repair was still going on but there was no fracture line. Also, worth noting that I had an incidental finding of a Tarlov cyst (sacral meningeal cyst) that I have probably had since birth. But, after about a week off again I slowly started back running and worked my mileage up properly this time and stuck with running on soft surfaces like rubberized tracks and sand/gravel/etc. Everyone asks people with stress fractures whether you have any weird feelings coming back and the answer is YES! 3 months out and I still feel weird feelings and soreness sometimes. Sometimes its a weird tingle, a tightness, a soreness, or just something indescribable but you are hyperaware that it is there. You just have to pay attention, don’t over do it, ice, and run on soft surfaces to minimize the impact force. Obviously, I took a bunch of different supplements and ate certain foods which I will be going over in later posts that I feel really contributed to the healing of my sacral stress fracture that hopefully can help speed up your stress fracture healing time.