Study: Underweight female runners more likely to get stress fractures

June 12, 2017, The Ohio State University
Former track and field athlete Jordan Moxley, 23, took part in a study at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, that found female athletes who have a body mass index (BMI) below 19 are at a greater risk for stress fractures than those with normal or high BMI. Credit: The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center

Carrying less weight may make female runners faster, but a new study from The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center shows it may also put them at a higher risk for injuries.

Published in Current Orthopaedic Practice, the study found that female runners who have a (BMI) of less than 19 are at a higher risk of developing stress fractures than women with a BMI of 19 or higher. It also found that lighter women who suffered stress fractures took longer to recover from them than other runners.

"We found that over time, we were able to identify the factors that put female runners at an of developing a ," said Dr. Timothy Miller, assistant professor of clinical orthopaedic surgery and . "One of the most important factors we identified was low weight, or low body mass index."

Miller said runners endure repetitive pounding on hard surfaces and, without enough lean muscle mass for dissipation of impact forces, the bones of the legs are vulnerable.

"When body mass index is very low and muscle mass is depleted, there is nowhere for the shock of running to be absorbed other than directly into the bones. Until some muscle mass is developed and BMI is optimized, runners remain at increased risk of developing a stress fracture," Miller said.

Doctors find women with lower BMIs are at a higher risk of injury, take longer to heal Credit: The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center

For three years, Miller and his team looked at injuries in dozens of Division I college athletes using the Kaeding-Miller classification system, which he developed with another sports medicine expert at Ohio State. This system is unique in that it characterizes injuries on a scale of 1 to 5, taking into consideration not only the patient's symptoms, but also x-ray results, bone scan and computed tomography (CT) images, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) findings.

Among those with grade 5 stress fractures - the most severe - the research team found that women whose BMI was 19 or higher took about 13 weeks to recover. Those with a low BMI (below 19), took more than 17 weeks to recover and return to running - a full month longer.

Studies show that between 25 and 50 percent of track athletes have at least one stress fracture in their career, with an increased incidence in female track athletes.

"It's imperative that women know their BMI and work to maintain a healthy level. They should also include resistance training in their training regimen to strengthen the lower leg to prevent injury, even if that means adding weight from additional ," Miller said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the body mass index for an average woman is 26. Miller suggests female athletes maintain a body index of 20-24.

Explore further: Abdominal obesity ups risk of hip fracture

Related Stories

Abdominal obesity ups risk of hip fracture

February 27, 2015
(HealthDay)—Abdominal obesity is associated with increased risk of hip fracture, according to a study published in the March issue of the Journal of Internal Medicine.

Fat-free mass index predicts survival in patients with Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis

November 21, 2016
Researchers have found that fat-free mass index, but not body mass index, was a significant predictor of survival in patients with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF), a debilitating form of pneumonia. Unlike body mass index, ...

Body composition may affect older women's risk of urinary incontinence

December 6, 2016
In a study of older women, the prevalence of stress- and urgency urinary incontinence (SUI and UUI) was at least two-fold higher among women in the highest category of body mass index (BMI) or fat mass compared with women ...

Childbirth an athletic event? Sports medicine used to diagnose injuries caused by deliveries

December 1, 2015
Childbirth is arguably the most traumatic event the human body can undergo, and new imaging techniques show that up to 15 percent of women sustain pelvic injuries that don't heal.

Recommended for you

Smartphones are bad for some teens, not all

February 21, 2018
Is the next generation better or worse off because of smartphones? The answer is complex and research shows it largely depends on their lives offline.

Lead and other toxic metals found in e-cigarette 'vapors': study

February 21, 2018
Significant amounts of toxic metals, including lead, leak from some e-cigarette heating coils and are present in the aerosols inhaled by users, according to a study from scientists at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public ...

Tackling health problems in the young is crucial for their children's future

February 21, 2018
A child's growth and development is affected by the health and lifestyles of their parents before pregnancy - even going back to adolescence - according to a new study by researchers at the Murdoch Children's Research Institute, ...

Why teens need up to 10 hours' sleep

February 21, 2018
Technology, other distractions and staying up late make is difficult, but researchers say teenagers need to make time for 8-10 hours of sleep a night to optimise their performance and maintain good health and wellbeing.

Electronic health records don't reduce administrative costs

February 21, 2018
The federal government thought that adopting certified electronic health record systems (EHR) would reduce administrative costs for physicians in a variety of specialties. However, a major new study conducted by researchers ...

Low-fat or low-carb? It's a draw, study finds

February 20, 2018
New evidence from a study at the Stanford University School of Medicine might dismay those who have chosen sides in the low-fat versus low-carb diet debate.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.