When I trained for my first marathon, I began feeling pain in my lower legs. My doctor said that this could be due to stress fractures in my bone from overworking my body. So my questions are, what is a stress fracture and how can you avoid one while training? Does a stress fracture mean you should stop running altogether until it goes away?
While this could indeed be due to a stress fracture, there are actually a number of things that could be causing you pain. First, a stress fracture is a small crack in the bone typically due to overuse. It cannot be 100% diagnosed without some imagery (bone scan, xray etc), but if you have a tuning fork, you can try placing it near the site of pain. While not the best test, if the vibrations reproduce the pain you may very well have a stress fracture and you would have a good case for your doctor to refer you for xray. If you do in fact have a stress fracture, you would have to stop running and wait for it to heal. A couple of other issues that could cause pain, but are not a stress fracture could be shin splints (very common) or compartment syndrome (not as common). Shin splints happen when the muscle attaching to you anterior tibialis (shin bone) are overworked and become tight. The muscles pull on the shin and cause pain. Consistently stretching and strengthening your calf muscles is the best way to deal with this issue. Compartment syndrome is when blood flow becomes so great in the calf muscles that pain results. Both compartment syndrome and shin splints can be treated conservatively with stretching, strengthening, rest and possibly anti-inflammatories (ibuprofen). You could also try massage or other manual therapy. In both cases you can continue to run if you can deal with the pain, but realize it may delay healing. Slowly building up your mileage is the key to avoiding these issues. Also, make sure you give yourself time in between runs to fully recover from the previous run. A general rule of thumb is to not increase your weekly mileage from week to week by more than 10%. I hope this helps. Good luck.