Athletes: Listen to Your Body
Surgeons Caution the Risks of Playing Through the Pain
Athletes likely experience aches and pains over the course of a season, some worse than others. However, athletes may not always appreciate the severity of the pain they are feeling, which can lead to season- or career-ending injuries.
As an elite college track and field athlete, Amelia knew this feeling all too well. In hopes of continuing to perform at the highest level, Amelia used the summer before her junior season to kickstart her training. Although she appeared to be at the top of her game, her body was telling her something different.
As her training continued, Amelia began to experience symptoms that are often indicative of a stress fracture, including persistent aches in the arch or midsection of the foot and pain while running and walking. According to Amelia’s doctor, Bryce Paschold, DPM, AACFAS, an Illinois foot and ankle surgeon, the symptoms she experienced are common among athletes participating in basketball, track and field and cross country.
“Runners specifically are at risk of stress fractures because of the repeated trauma to their feet and ankles. A stress reaction or fracture can result from increasing mileage, duration or speed too quickly,” said Dr. Paschold. “Ultimately, if athletes are experiencing pain early in the season or their training regime, they need to reevaluate to prevent the risk of developing an overuse injury like this.”
One specific overuse injury that can plague athletes is a navicular stress fracture. Research indicates that fractures may occur when the navicular bone, a boat-shaped bone located in the top inner side of the foot, is pinched or compressed by bones on either side, which increases the pressure inside the bone itself causing a break to form.
Because the symptoms resemble those of typical aches and pains, athletes often ignore them and play through the pain. “I was initially diagnosed with tendonitis and took some time off to recover, but I still competed in the spring outdoor season,” Amelia said. “By the end of the summer, the pain had progressed, and after a second evaluation, I was diagnosed with a navicular stress fracture. This time, I knew I had to listen my doctors, coaches and trainers so I could recover properly,” she added.
Navicular stress fractures can be difficult to treat due to the poor blood supply to the navicular bone (a good blood supply is needed for healing of any bone injury) and the continued force being absorbed in normal walking and other activities. Depending on the grade of the injury, a navicular stress fracture can take up to three to six months to heal.
For Amelia, Dr. Paschold’s treatment plan consisted of surgical intervention, immobilization and gradual increase in activity based on her progress. “I managed Amelia’s expectations since her recovery time could have interfered with her outdoor track and field season, but she proved to be resilient and was back to her normal activity in four months.” said Dr. Paschold.
“I was nervous for the recovery process because I’m a passionate athlete, and I knew it was going to be a long road to recovery. But I was determined to recover properly, so I could continue to compete at the highest level,” said Amelia. “If I learned anything from this injury, it’s that you must listen to your body and not overdo it. If I would have listened early on, I probably wouldn’t have had to go through what I did.”
As for Amelia, she was able to fully recover for her senior season, win the NCAA III championship and take a major lesson away from the process: “It’s important to listen to your doctors and embrace the recovery process. It’s easy to want to push through the pain, but it can do more harm than good.”