Twenty-two-year-old Amy Arrington loves to dance
Stress fracture in dancer described as an overuse injury
Amy Arrington loves to dance. The 22-year-old moved from Hawaii to attend the Mesa State College dance program two years ago.
Last March, she was gearing up for the summer and her final year of school.
Arrington pushed herself, dancing sometimes more than five hours a day, seven days a week. She began feeling pain in her lower leg and although it was painful, it wasn’t going to keep her from dancing.
“I thought I had shin splints for a long time so I didn’t do anything about it,” Arrington said. “I iced it and did whatever you would do for shin splints and it didn’t help. I didn’t know what the problem was for like seven or eight months. I kept dancing and it got worse. It hurts every time I dance and jump and it was like, ‘this sucks,’ but I kept dancing. I came back (last fall) and started again and that was the last straw.”
When just walking or climbing a set of stairs became as difficult as landing a jump during a dance, Arrington decided it was time to see a doctor. She was referred to Dr. Michael Reeder, a sports medicine specialist at Rocky Mountain Orthopaedics Associates.
What Arrington thought was shin splints was something more serious.
X-rays showed what is referred to as the dreaded black line on Arrington’s tibia. She had a stress fracture of her anterior tibia.
“A lot of things like tendinitis, when you’re sore from overuse, they feel a little bit better when you warm up and move,” Reeder said. “Stress fractures are not going to get much better as you are exercising. It usually will hurt during the exercise and if it continues to hurt afterwards, it is more of a warning sign.”
Stress fractures tend to fly under the radar when it comes to athletic injuries.
“It is not an uncommon injury,” Reeder said. “The stress fracture is an overuse injury. It is kind of like your bone is like a paper clip in a way, because if you take a paper clip and keep bending it, it will eventually break.”
There’s pain with both shin splints and stress fractures, but it’s different, Reeder said.
“The things to look for are pain while exercising, fairly specific pain,” he said. “Patients can usually point to where the area is that is causing the problem. When you are having shin splints, your whole tibia hurts, and what Amy had was one spot in her tibia. She could point to it and say, ‘this hurts right here.’ “
But a broken bone? Arrington didn’t remember any specific fall or moment where she hurt her leg, which is one reason athletes don’t realize that they could have a serious stress fracture. When Reeder is diagnosing the injury, he looks at how people are training.
“The first thing I look at when someone has a stress fracture is their training history and see what did they do to cause the problem. People will have try to correlate it to some injury, but most of the time, it is an overuse problem,” Reeder said. “Almost every sport you can think of has a chance for this injury.
“In rowers, they described rib stress fractures because they use their lats so much.
Gymnasts, it is very common to have a stress fracture in your back, young throwers can have stress fractures in their elbow or shoulder, but the most common one is running and stress fractures in the lower extremities.”
Surgery isn’t commonly a solution for stress fractures, and Arrington got the bad news:
She would have to stop what she was doing and stay off of the injured leg for an extended period of time. For Arrington, it wasn’t that easy. She continued to dance, but finally had to completely stop in April of 2008.
“I saw (Reeder) in April and it was bad, because I didn’t stop,” Arrington said. “When I saw him in June you could see it was healing because I stopped dancing. Dancing even the minimal amount I was doing towards the end affected it so much. By October, you could still see (the fracture on X-rays) but it was nothing like it was before, and the pain was gone.”
Arrington’s injury could have become a complete fracture of the tibia. Reeder has seen that happen first-hand.
“When I was doing my fellowship in the Albany, New York area, we had a kid who was a college basketball player and had an anterior tibia stress fracture. He was told he should have a rod placed (in the leg) or not play basketball,” Reeder said. “I just happened to come into the gym and he came down off a layup and completely broke his leg. It was an open fracture of his tibia and that is what can happen.”
Arrington completed her dance degree, but the injury gave the avid dancer a change of plans. While she still loves dance, Arrington is now pursuing a nursing degree and putting her dancing career on the back burner.
“The injury put it into perspective,” Arrington said. “I still love to dance, but if I think if I got back it into it full time, I don’t know how it would feel.”