I recently read this blog post from a runner who, like me, is returning to running after time off from a stress fracture. She runs a lot more than I ever did so I can’t relate to her training routine but what did interest me was the article she linked to about phantom pains, and this quote:
“Phantom pains can be caused by aforementioned calcium build up but can also be mentally induced by fear of re-injury. Think of it as post-traumatic stress fracture disorder where instead of mental flashbacks to the time of trauma, there are phantom pains.”
Since I finished my return to running program three months ago I’ve been running 2-3 times a week, never on consecutive days. Most runs are pain-free, but my leg is always sore the next day. However some runs I notice something different about my previously injured right leg. I wouldn’t call it pain; it’s more like pressure. It feels like my leg is trying to say “Hey! Pay attention to me!” It doesn’t last the whole run; generally it is just at the beginning or at random isolated times. But this still made me wonder if I was overdoing things in some way. Last year I largely ignored signs I needed to slow down; I iced and foam rolled and kept running, likely for several weeks with the stress fracture. I don’t want to do that again.
Yes, you can run on a stress fracture and PR a 10k.
I did some more googling on phantom pains and found this forum. I find opinions from other runners more useful than formal articles a lot of the time, and this person’s post really resonated with me:
“I have had some minor twinges in the area where the stress fracture occurred. Not really pain, but more like a heightened awareness of that area. I was a little concerned, too. I have a coworker who has been running since his early teens, and he had a stress fracture about 6-7 years ago. He says that he still gets what he calls “phantom pains” where his stress fracture was, especially when increasing mileage or intensity. So, I’ve chalked it up to me being paranoid, especially since it has now been over 6 months.”
This describes what I’m going through pretty accurately. I think I’m more aware of these pains as I increase my weekly mileage, which is what I’ve done recently.
This runner‘s opinion seems pretty reasonable:
“I believe the source of the discomfort (that doesn’t seem to get worse) is from the significant amount of new bone that has grown at the point of my old stress fracture. If I run my fingers over the area, I can actually feel the calcium that has built up on the spot. According to my doctor, it can take a year before the new bone becomes smooth and “normal” again. However, in the meantime, the calcium deposits put pressure on surrounding nerve tissues, which can create various sensations such as tingling or numbness.”
Lately I run, take the next day off and feel sore but stronger later in the day, then the next day or day after that I run again. This has become a predictable pattern for me, so I am less concerned about the soreness than I once was, since I have many examples of it going away. The random pain was concerning for me, so I am happy to read these other experiences of people who have had pain that didn’t signal re-injury.