Sunday, February 6, 2011

Bad Things Happen in Three's

Many of my readers already know the punchline from last week's ballad- I do have a stress fracture. Multiple ones, according to the results of my bone scan. Even though it's only my right shin that hurts, the scan apparently detected two stress fractures in the left leg (one on the tibia, one on the fibula) in addition to the one on my right tibia. The nurse called me to deliver the results, so I wasn't able to ask the doctor about the oddity of three simultaneous stress fractures, especially considering that there is no pain in the left leg. I did leave him a message, but he hasn't gotten back to me yet. I always feel like doctors just want to rush you in and out and be done with you, and don't want to really talk you through things. 

I've never been someone to do anything half-way. I've always maintained an "all or nothing" attitude, which often works in my favor, but has sometimes worked against me. So it when it comes to injuries, naturally I can't just have one stress fracture, I have to have three.

My guesses on what's going on:
  • It's only a stress fracture on the right, everything on the left is a stress reaction, or something else going on.
  • They are all three stress fractures, but only the right one is bad enough to where it actually causes pain.
  • It was caused by the introduction of the treadmill after a long period of no treadmill. And they say treadmill running alters your gait.
  • Having lower than normal bone density (I was told I was osteopenic in 2003) was a contributing factor.
The good news is that I am getting them all out of the way at once, and now I know I need to be religious about taking calcium supplements. And the treadmill is a definite no-no. 

Doctor's orders were simple (and once again, I didn't have the ability to ask questions). Make a follow-up appointment for 4 weeks. No running until then, but elliptical and swimming are ok. From my knowlege of stress fractures, it's typically 6 weeks of no running, followed by a very gradual build-up. And after 90 days, it should be healed completely. My last day of running was Tuesday, Jan. 25, which means I should be able to re-introduce running on March 9. I don't expect full recovery until the end of April. Thankfully, I hadn't registered for many spring races, just the Shamrock marathon. I'm hoping that by that time I can run the last 1-2 miles with my husband. 

My friend Cristina used a bone stimulator machine to shorten the healing time of the fracture in her foot. These machines have been shown to reduce healing time, so I purchased one for myself off of eBay. (They retail for $4000 and my insurance won't cover it unless it's a full break). So the way to go, recommended by Cristina, it to get one that has been gently used from eBay. The machine is supposed to arrive tomorrow. My appointment with my doctor is on Feb. 25, at which point an X-ray should reveal the progress of the healing. If the machine works as well for me as it did Cristinia, then maybe I could shorten the whole thing by a few weeks. Which is totally worth the investment to me. The only problem I might run into is that I don't know the exact location of the fractures. I have requested copies of the bone scan so that I can see for myself. Apparently the stimulating device needs to be placed exactly at the site of the stress fracture.

Pool Running
As for cross-training, I am going to be conservative and lay off of the elliptical for another week, even though the doctor said it was okay. To maintain my fitness, my main focus has been deep-water pool running (with a flotation belt) with some swimming thrown in here and there. I've read quite a few articles and blogs on pool running, and there is a great deal of evidence out there that when done at the proper intensity, pool running can help you maintain most, if not all of your fitness over a six-week period. Even with all the evidence, I am a bit skeptical because I just don't feel like I am working as hard on my "easy" pool runs. But we shall see.

Thankfully, there is a pool about two miles from my house. This means I can spend up to an hour and a half in the pool before having to leave for work. On the weekends, I have been going to a pool about 30 minutes away to meet up with some friends. Yesterday, I spent three hours in the pool, 2:30 running and half an hour swimming. Afterwards, I was as tired as if I had done an 18-20 miler. And my legs certainly felt it.

So far, this injury has not gotten me down as much as previous injuries. Mainly because I really think the pool running will preserve my fitness and there is nothing more disheartening than the belief that everything you've been working so hard for has gone to waste. Also, I just came off of a fantastic year of running, setting PRs at nearly every distance. I was fortunate to be injury free for 15 months, so I guess I was due. During that time I really maximized it and I can only hope for another long stretch of no injuries again once this is done with. Of course I am upset about this, but I am trying to focus on recovery, and not think about all the races I'm missing out on this season. The outpouring of support of my running friends has been incredible. Without them, I would know nothing of pool running and bone stimulators!

I'm very determined to keep my spirits high and to preserve my fitness. I also need to be prepared to lose some of it. It will be such a letdown if the pool running doesn't work as good as expected, so I need to be cautiously optimistic.


  1. Elizabeth, I can't tell you how sorry I am about the stress fractures, but if anyone is a great example of how pool running will keep you fit and fast, it's Cristina. Here's to a quick healing Feb, so you're back at it in March!

  2. YOU NEED TO GET A DOCTOR THAT WILL TALK TO YOU AND ANSWER YOUR QUESTIONS! that is unacceptable!!! Do not take that as ok, this is your health, and you need someone that will follow through with you! (Im passsonate about this as I am a nurse and that is my pet peeve with some MD's) You are having to lay out your own recovery plan, and guess no running for 6 wks, may I suggest a 2nd opinion. This isn;t the flu, this is 3 stress fx's, she/he should return your call and should always be available! (mine would call back within hours when I called during my break) and brought me back every 2 wks!
    Ok, I had to let that out...I get pretty heated about bad health care:)
    and yes bad things do come in 3's, this was my 2010 experience, but keep looking forward!! Healing time does fly, and cross training does kick booty, and makes you stronger:) You won't lose much fitness, promise!! Stay strong, look forward, and get a better doctor! lol

  3. Oh no, I'm sorry to hear about your stress fractures. Definitely DEFINITELY keep up the pool running. Christina is an excellent example of how well it works! I also had a stress fracture two years ago and I maintained my fitness through pool running alone (eliptical hurt for the first few weeks of injury). I hope you heal well and soon!

  4. My orthopedist, not a nurse, called me with my MRI results for my stress fracture and discussed my treatment plan, which included the bone stimulator. Because it was prescribed and my insurance PRE-authorized it at 100%, the actual bone stimulator company, Smith & Nephew, covered the entire cost at 100% when my insurance ultimately denied it. I'm so sorry about the fractures, but it sounds better than a foot one. Mine took four MONTHS and that is apparently not too long for a metatarsal stress fracture.

  5. Just can't believe this news, what a horrible situation. Hopefully you are correct and it's only the one SFX. Sounds like you're doing everything right and have a positive attitude to take you through March. Good luck and hugs to you, it's really not fair.

  6. Tara: Thanks. I called today and they said that the doctor' aren't religious about checking their email messages. My doctor is not in today, but they said he would give me a call tomorrow. I got to speak to the nurse again though- who didn't really know the answers.

    Jenn: That's awesome that you got a brand new machine and didn't have to pay for it. Mine says it doesn't cover for stress fractures so I had to go the eBay route.

    Thanks everyone else for the support!

  7. Again, I promise you, you'll get through this. Just one poolrunning step at a time. :)

  8. I'm so sorry about the stress fractures. Cristina is right...pool run one step at a time. I'm in anytime you want to go!

  9. Hey Elizabeth - great attitude as usual about just workign your way thru it.

    P.S. you could start a little business renting the machine out when you are done with it!

  10. Heaving a huge sigh for you - this flat-out sucks, and I'm sorry. But you're got lots of pool running buddies, and the time will go by more quickly than you think! I really hope the fancy bone machine works well for you too!

  11. I echo Tara's statement hear. There's a reason I don't like doctors, particularly MDs and to not provide you the bone scan is utter nonsense. Hopefully you eventually got it. Usually the place where you do the bone scan should give it to you. I had an MRI once and they gave it to me on the spot!!

    I know this was awhile ago but as with all supplements, make sure your body is absorbing it, particularly calcium which can be dangerous if it's not being absorbed and causing deposits in the blood vessels. I haven't studied which forms of calcium absorb best but in the future if something comes up, I'll definitely try to be helpful and of course, share with your particular doctor given I'm not a licensed dietitian or medical professional!! Just going by all those years of listening to Pharmacist Ben Fuchs