Whether you’re a weekend warrior or just working out for your overall health, you might have noticed or developed a dull pain in your hip, shin or foot that just won’t go away. Maybe this happens after a particularly hard workout or has been lingering for a while. It doesn’t seem to be getting any better. What is it?

Your injury could be a stress fracture. But what exactly is a stress fracture?

A Stress Fracture

It’s a tiny fissure in the bone that developed from overuse. Stress fractures happen when the muscle is fatigued and cannot absorb extra shock. The muscle sends extra impact on to the bone, which causes tiny cracks in the bone over time.

Stress fractures happen when you try to increase your activity too quickly or change surfaces. For example, a runner is susceptible to switching between rock, sand, gravel and cement surfaces. These changes cause different muscles to engage and landing wrong on the bones can be a direct cause of a stress fracture. Due to the great level of impact on runners’ legs, the majority of stress fractures happen below the knee.

Women are more prone to experiencing stress fractures because they generally have a lower bone density and are also commonly deficient in iron and vitamin D. Vitamin D is vital for neuromuscular health. Muscles require oxygen to work properly, and iron is a necessary component in this process. Taking a vitamin D and iron supplement can be a smart addition to both male and female athletes diets.

If you are worried that you may have a stress fracture, you should consult your doctor immediately. Walking or continuing to run on a stress fracture could cause the bone to break. The consequences of a stress fracture turning into a full on break can involve surgery with pins inserted into the bone.

The Healing Process

The best way to treat a stress fracture is to rest. That doesn’t mean you need to be dormant during the whole recovery period. You can try other activities that require less impact to keep up cardiovascular health during healing. Common activities including swimming and light reclined biking. If there is pain, back off on the activity until you can do it without pain. Slow and steady is the game here when it comes to a full recovery.

If you are in the preventative stage, there are several things you can do. Cross training is advised for all athletes, as is a balanced diet and greater consumption of water.

You can also review your gear. If you shoes are really worn out, that can also add stress the incorrect parts of your foot. Early detection is key. If you recognize a constant pain, get it checked out.

Injuries are not uncommon if you’re an active person. If you have a stress fracture, be patient, take a bath and know that you’ll be back on the trails soon enough.