Rehab files: a runner's stress fracture

The workout workarounds that helped one athlete avoid surgery

It’s all-too-easy for fit bodies to adopt a love-hate relationship with pain, growing frustrated when injured and choosing all (pushing through) or nothing (stopping all exercise entirely), sidelining themselves in the process.

Yet, with the right training, it’s possible to use an injury as an opportunity. You can strengthen your body in new ways, find alternative ways to heal,and come out on the other side more resilient and better equipped to move forward. In the Furthermore series, Rehab Files, we highlight an athlete who has done just this. Here, our first installment.

The athlete:Liz Legere, 32, a Manhattan-based librarian and runner. Legere's weekly routine included three or four runs of seven to 13 miles each. She also took cycling classes and weight trained with Shanit Bar, a Tier 3 trainer at Equinox Sports Club in New York City, twice a week.

The injury and diagnosis:A stress fracture in the femur. Legere’s physical therapist believed it was the result of a problem with her stride; an orthopedic surgeon at the Hospital For Special Surgery felt it was due to running for long distances, which resulted in an overuse injury.

The doctor’s notes:Do not train the legs at all. Surgery to insert screws in the hip may be necessary.

The rehab routine: Legere and Bar consulted with Equinox’s in-house sports therapy group, ICE Therapy, for appropriate guidelines and feedback along the way. Bar then created challenging workouts for Legere that included upper-body cardio and strength as well as core and leg stabilization exercises and glute-firing moves.

“We implemented non-weight bearing exercises to strengthen the surrounding region, including the hip stabilizers,” says Bar. “This way, the supporting muscles could keep the injury protected from further injury.”

Exercises included:

  • Punches with weights
  • Ball slams
  • Battle ropes
  • Hip bridges with chest press—narrow and wide
  • Bicep curl to press to tricep extensions
  • Core moves: Gliding plank jacks, gliding knee tucks, gliding pikes
  • Leg lifts all directions (left, right, front)
  • Lateral band walking with bicep curls
  • Back leg extensions with tricep kickbacks (using cables)
  • Donkey kicks with one-arm rows (using cables)

Legere chose not to include any alternative forms of treatment, such as acupuncture, in her recovery plan. However, she did run on an anti-gravity treadmill (Alter-G) in order to ease back into running while focusing on correcting her stride length with the help of her PT.

The outcome: After two months, Legere’s bone had healed and she could resume training her legs and doing plyometric routines. She avoided a very intense surgery and will continue to ease back into running via the Alter-G until she's ready to hit the pavement again.

The takeaways:"I definitely learned to fix my stride (it needed to be shorter), and that sometimes resting is the best way to get a jump start on recovery," says Legere. "I was trying to push through in the beginning when I should have rested more."

Note: Legere's rehab routine and diagnosis were personalized for her and are not meant to be used as a template for other athletes.