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3 Common Risk Factors for Stress Fractures and How to Avoid Them

Are you finding that some of the athletes you coach are suffering from stress fractures? Perhaps you’re hearing about athletes from other sports at your school also suffering from stress fractures. If so, you’re not alone.

Unfortunately, stress fractures are very common in young athletes, particularly in runners, dancers and female endurance athletes. Studies have shown that up to 5% of middle school and high school runners experience stress fractures each year.  However, while some injuries simply cannot be prevented, the risk of stress fractures can be reduced for your athletes, and early detection and treatment can lessen the impact of the injury and have your athlete back on the field sooner.

Here, Dr. Michele LaBotz, TrueSport Expert and sports medicine physician explains three reasons that stress fractures are so common and what you can do to help your athletes.

1. Sudden Increase in Activity

“During the height of the pandemic, athletes were out of sport entirely,” says LaBotz. “Many of them stopped playing sports and stopped exercising altogether. Then, as things began to restart and reopen, students were so excited to go back and start playing their sport again that they did everything quickly. They started training and competing again and didn’t gradually increase their volume and intensity. Too much, too soon can lead to stress fractures.”

2. Lack of Variety

As more athletes specialize in sports from a young age, the risk of injuries like stress fractures has increased. This is partially because athletes are often doubling or tripling up on practice and competitions as they play for school and club teams and getting extra professional coaching on the side. Not only does this lead to an increase in volume but also to a lack of variety of movement, especially in sports like running or sports that favor one side of the body or one major muscle group. “The lack of variety for young athletes is a big problem,” says LaBotz. “As a coach, you can make sure that even if your sport doesn’t offer much variety, you’re filling in those gaps with drills and strength training that involves moving the body in a variety of different directions, rather than those that emphasize more repetitive movements."

3. Athletes Focusing on Weight Management and Restriction

“We see in both young men and women that there are many young athletes suffering from relative energy deficiency in sport (RED-S),” says LaBotz. “These athletes are often harboring the assumption that there’s a ‘best weight’ or ‘best body type’ for their specific sport, and trying to force themselves into that particular mold.” But having symptoms of RED-S and not taking in enough nutrients to support the body’s work output can greatly increase the risk of stress fractures.

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Athlete Health Parent, Coach TrueSport