What Is a Stress Reaction?

Many people mistakenly think of bone as an inactive and inanimate object, but bone is a unique living material that is constantly changing. As old cells within bone die and are replaced by new cells, a balanced state can usually be maintained within the skeletal structure. Bone is incredibly strong and can adapt very well to the stresses placed upon it. But what happens when things go wrong with this process? What is a stress reaction within a bone? What causes stress reactions in bone, and how can they be effectively treated? Let’s explore these questions.

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What Is a Stress Reaction?

Wolff’s law is the scientific explanation of the ability of living bone to become stronger due to stresses that are placed upon it in day-to-day life. According to Wolff’s law, the internal makeup of bone is initially weakened when it encounters a mechanical load or stressor. This initial weakening triggers the bone to begin a unique rebuilding process that causes the bone to become stronger. This process normally works well, and the bone increases in strength.

However, sometimes an individual will stress the same bone again before this rebuilding process has had a chance to make the bone stronger. This is common in athletes who push themselves beyond normal limits. This continued stress is what is referred to as a stress reaction.

What Causes Stress Reactions?

Stress reactions are very common among athletes who continue training or playing their sport after they have already placed an enormous amount of stress on the bone. This type of stress reaction can also occur at times in older individuals, as their bones tend to lose strength during the aging process. Stress reactions do not occur from singular incidents or bouts of trauma. As the very name implies, they occur from repeatedly placing stress on the bone before it has had sufficient time to become stronger. With each additional stress placed on the bone, it continues to weaken and damage occurs to its structure. Repeated stress reactions can eventually lead to a bone fracture.

Symptoms of a Stress Reaction

During the early stages of a stress reaction, mild pain in the affected area is a typical symptom. As the stress reaction continues to worsen, specific actions performed by the individual will result in a lot of pain. As an athlete attempts to push off, jump or land, the pain can become very intense as the condition progressively worsens. Bone stress reactions frequently occur in the pelvis, ankle, tibia, femur and spine.

How Can Stress Reactions Be Effectively Treated?

Realistically, there is only one way to stop a bone reaction from getting worse or progressing to an actual fracture. The stress or load that is being placed on the bone must be stopped completely. Complete removal of the offending stressor allows the bone to heal properly and get stronger once again.

As the patient stops placing the load on the affected bone, the rebuilding process will take over. The process should be given a sufficient amount of time to rebuild the affected tissue, making the bone stronger once again. Once this process has been completed, the individual can resume exercise. Of course, proper precautions should be followed to avoid reinjuring the area.

Outsmarting a Stress Reaction

The best thing an individual can do if he or she experiences signs of a stress reaction is to slow down. The symptoms of a stress reaction are the body’s way of alerting the individual to the problem. Failure to listen to the signals the body is providing will only make the condition worse. Recovery time will increase if the pain associated with a stress reaction is ignored. In a worst-case situation, the stress reaction may be ignored to the point that the bone will fracture, which requires a lot of down time to correct. Collagen peptides, while not a cure-all, have been known to assist in the recovery process of stress reactions. You should always consult a medical professional when deciding how to deal with injuries to a bone.

Stress reactions are common occurrences. They can result in pain and injuries that worsen over time, and the body may eventually require a great deal of down time to recover. By listening to the signals the body gives, many individuals can catch a stress reaction before it leads to a fracture. Have you dealt with a stress reaction before? Share your experience with us in the comments section below.


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