About the Author: Jono (old man) Rumbelow is the familiar and friendly face at Run in Bree street. You may not know, however, that he is an experienced coach and learned athlete himself. He also has some experience singing in a choir, but let’s not get into that.
The Bones in our Body
We as athletes are always thinking about how the stresses and strains that our muscles endure when we train. We forget however, that these muscles cover the 206 bones (more if your special LOL) that make up our skeleton.
So question is, have you ever thought about what your bones are made of, how they adapt or even their function within the body? If not well lets’ go through some basics.
Our bones, in conjunction with numerous tendons and ligaments especially in the foot, provides a structural framework for us to be able to stand upright with relative ease. It is this framework that not only protects our organs, but allows us to move and interact with the world. Of course, the muscles play a major role in the movement and interaction.
The Make Up
Bone is one of the hardest structures in the body and is made up of two different types of matter. There is the organic, which provides the toughness and elasticity properties, and there is the inorganic, which provides hardness and solidity properties. The organic matter is a combination of gelatine and blood vessels with the inorganic matter being made up of Phosphate and Carbonate of Lime, Fluoride of Calcium, Phosphate of Magnesia and lastly Soda and Chloride of Sodium.
The percentage of organic vs inorganic changes during our life time. As a child the split is almost even. This slowly changes to one third organic and two thirds inorganic as we progress into the adult stages of our lives.
However this significantly changes as we grow old, to a point where studies have shown this to go to 14% organic vs 86% in organic. At this stage our bones are more brittle, their elasticity almost non existent and the chances of fractures more prevalent.
Bones are classified into 4 different shapes namely long, short, flat and irregular. Bones growth starts off as cartilage as early as 5 weeks in the womb. Thereafter, the very slow process known as ossification takes place in a rather complex manner through to adult life. Most bones receive their nutrients via a central point and the growth takes place at either end of the bone at different stages, too complex to do it justice here.
The Ability to Remodel
One remarkable property of bone is the ability to adapt and continuously remodel. Every day, calcium is removed from some regions and deposited in others depending on the stresses applied to them. There is a limitation to this, though. It is therefore not uncommon to hear that athletes have developed a stress fracture of some sort and this is what I want to talk about today.
Firstly, what is a stress fracture. Let’s look at the simple definition if you had to Google it
“A tiny crack in a bone caused by repetitive stress or force, often caused from overuse. Forces that can cause a stress fracture include repeatedly jumping up and down or running long distances”
So how and where do they occur? Well they are most common in the weight bearing bones of the body i.e. the lower leg (aka shin) and the foot. They can occur if the stress on the bone from exercise is too much (duration and intensity) or if the speed at which a training programme progresses is too fast.
You see the problem is that we as athletes forget about the “Recovery Stage” of our training programme. By not allowing our bodies (and that includes the bones) to recover, the rate at which our bone tissue is broken down in training is quicker than what the body can replace or rebuild it. It has been said that almost 20% of runners will experience a stress fracture during their life time!
While everyone can be exposed to a stress fracture, there are some factors that can increase your risk which include:
- Certain sports. Impact on the bones is critical. People who engage in high-impact sports, such as track and field, basketball, tennis, dance or gymnastics to name but a few.
- Women. Ladies, you are more susceptible I’m afraid than men. Some sports medicine doctors have suggested this could be due to those who experience abnormal or absent menstrual periods, amongst a variety of other factors.
- Relative Energy Deficiency in Sports (RED-S) syndrome is a term encompassing; 1) low energy availability with or without disordered eating, 2) menstrual dysfunction, and 3) low bone density. RED-S is seen in both men and women and puts you at a greater risk for stress fractures.
- Foot problems. People who have flat feet, high rigid arches or an actual leg length difference along with training in shoes that are either totally inappropriate or way past their sell by date.
- Weakened bones. This is linked to our daily diet. Conditions such as osteoporosis can weaken your bones and make it easier for stress fractures to occur. Remember age also falls into this category.
- Previous stress fractures. It has been shown that almost 60% of those who have had a stress fracture, will have a second one in the future. These are the people who choose the “quick fix” solution rather than taking the long road to full strength and recovery.
- Lack of nutrients. Eating disorders or poor dietary choices along with the lack of lack of vitamin D and Calcium can make bones more likely to develop stress fractures
Of course, early recognition leads to prevention of a more serious injury and thus faster cure. Since these injuries often sideline an athlete for a considerable period of time, lets look at some of the things you can do to try eliminate or indeed delay this injury
There are 3 main areas that athletes can easily tackle to promote healthy bones and in doing so, try and help delay or eliminate the chance of a stress fracture.
Our nutrition is “fair” at best, and as for healthy, well that’s a whole other debate. Yes, unfortunately the heavier you are, the more stress you place on the bones, ligaments and muscles during a weights bearing exercise. In the same breath, being underweight will also disrupt hormonal balance and again put you at higher risk of developing stress fractures. Because our diet is not perfect and we don’t get all the vitamins and minerals required, some think that by taking a vitamin supplement will solve this problem. WRONG!
By the time most of us go to either university or straight into the working world, dark green veggies and legumes are far from our mind. Poor nutritional habits can lead to fluctuating hormonal levels, and weight. Our bones need our hormones to regulate the calcium deposition and remodelling process and so when we out these levels out, we put our bones at risk of loosing calcium and becoming weaker.
Yes if you have to supplement then a good Calcium /Magnesium along with a Vitamin D supplement (for those who run when you’re suppose to be resting, yes we know who you are) would be a good place to start.
A well-constructed training program is also important for healthy bones. Since bone responds to training loads by becoming stronger, a gradual build-up over time is preferable to a rapid increase in training volume. Too sudden a jump to heavy mileage is probably the most common error leading to stress fractures.
It is important to follow a good strength resistance program into your weekly routine, particularly for that all important “mid-section”. This can add the stabilization and muscular endurance that most athletes lack during the running gait cycle.
This directly relates to the series of articles on “Body Works” reading this will allow you to fully comprehend the ideal training scenario, how to approach your training, but more importantly, how to try and stay injury free for as long as possible.
It’s no secret that almost 65% of people who have a sports related injury of some form, can directly be related back to the shoe which is on their feet. Marketing drives us to wear the newest shoes as worn by those we support, admire or even idol, let alone the “club experts” who swear by a shoe because it works for them.
We are all individuals and so that which works for others, is not necessarily going to work for us. Your running gait, foot shape, foot mobility and functionality, along with ability, training age, injury history and goals, play a major role in finding the right shoe for the activity you are going to be partaking in.
Our bodies are truly amazing things. Unlike a computer or mobile phone, which has to follow a set sequence of events in order to function efficiently and effectively when switched on, our bodies adapt quickly in order to arrive at the desired endpoint should a challenge occur. As such the body will do the same thing when it has the wrong shoe on the foot for the desired activity.
This forces muscles in the body to work when they shouldn’t to a point that it alter the angles of landing, movement of the limbs and impact on both the muscles and bones. Shoes are not a “one type suits all” scenario.
I know this was a lot to take it but hopefully enough to make to think more about your bodies health. If you take away anything, remember to eat as well as possible, train smartly and use the correct gear for you, and you will run a long and happy road. Until next time , enjoy your training!