Vitamin D and calcium to prevent stress fractures

Taking vitamin D and calcium supplements seems to help prevent stress fractures in soldiers.

A stress fracture is a tiny fissure in a bone. It is a painful sports injury that most often occurs in what are called the weight-bearing bones of the lower leg and foot. This kind of fracture is typically attributed to a repeated application of force, usually by overuse, and not giving the bone enough time to recover and heal itself. Athletes who rapidly increase the intensity, length or weights used in their training program and soldiers who walk long distances are particularly vulnerable. Treatment most often involves plenty of rest and icing the injured area. Stress fractures can be prevented by following a progressive training program, by strengthening the muscles surrounding susceptible joints, and by taking vitamin D and calcium supplements.

Researchers followed the health of over 5,000 American female recruits participating in an 8-week basic training program. The members of one group were given a daily dose of 2,000 milligrams of calcium and 800 IU (International Unit) of vitamin D, while the other group received a placebo.

Previous studies showed that, especially for women, a deficiency in these nutrients predisposes people to stress fractures. However, researchers did not believe that vitamin D and calcium supplements could have such a strong impact in such a short period of time. In fact, the new army recruits who took vitamin D and calcium supplements during their eight weeks of training had 25% less stress fractures than their colleagues.

The study also shows that the recruits who were already practicing weight-bearing sports like running, ball sports or rollerblading for example, were less likely to suffer from stress fractures than their more sedentary colleagues.

Not only are these findings interesting for military personnel, for who stress fractures are a significant problem, but also for civilians. Young athletes could use vitamin D and calcium supplements as a preventative measure to ward off stress fractures.

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