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What happened to Krista Duchene?

Our resident sport scientist weigh in on the injury she sustained in Montreal

Over the weekend Krista DuChene set out to defend her Canadian half-marathon title in Montreal. She didn't know it at the time, but Krista had an undiagnosed stress fracture in the area of where her femur (the long bone in the thigh) meets the hip bone (called the femoral neck). This undiagnosed stressed fracture turned into a full fracture by the end of the race. Even with a fractured femoral neck and barely able to walk, Krista managed to finish the race in third place. To understand how she ended up with a fracture and how she managed to finish the race we turned to Dr. Sarah West and Dr. Greg Wells, scientists from the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto.
 
Dr. West: Stress fractures can be caused by a variety of factors including bone disease, osteoporosis or poor nutrition. Stress fractures can also occur as a result of overusing the bone. Runners are at a high risk for femoral stress fractures, especially when they challenge their bodies by suddenly increasing the mileage that they run, change the running terrain that are running on, and because with regular training they are constantly putting a lot of strain on the bones in their legs and hips. It is possible that some of these factors contributed to the development of the stress fracture Krista experienced. Pain from stress fractures can be easily confused with muscle pain, and a femoral neck stress fracture may just feel like deep thigh or groin pain. Many athletes who have these stress fractures, like Krista, do not even realize it. Generally, exercise is excellent for building stronger bones, however, too much exercise can be harmful, especially in combination with poor nutrition. Athletes should be aware of the symptoms (nagging pain that won’t go away even with rest), and to see their doctor to have the presence of a stress fracture investigated if they are experiencing pain. 
 
Dr. Wells: I’m just amazed at how Krista was able to finish the race after experiencing a fracture. That pain must have been absolutely brutal. Our bodies have built in mechanisms that can keep us going when we’ve been injured, and it all comes down to a hormone called an endorphin. The name endorphin comes from “endogenous” and “morphine,” meaning that endorphins are a form of morphine that is created in the human body. In addition to blocking pain endorphins can also produce the “runner’s high”. They are released directly into the bloodstream in response to stress (like running) or physical trauma (like being injured). Endorphins attach to the surface of nerve cells and block signals from our bodies that are passing to the brain. So endorphins can block pain signals and keep you going if you’ve been hurt and you may not even feel it! That’s probably what happened to Krista when she was running with a broken femur.
 
Dr. Greg Wells is an associate scientist in Physiology and Experimental Medicine at The Hospital for Sick Children. You can follow him on Twitter at @drgregwells. Dr. Sarah West is a researcher who specializes in bone health and she is also based at The Hospital for Sick Children.


Photo courtesy of Canada Running Series

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