As someone who has been running for several years, I know how easy it is for runners to become a little compulsive about our running. We like our routines – we have our favorite races and routes to run and our favorite ways to train. To one extent or another, our running becomes a part of our identity and helps to define who we are. But what happens when a runner becomes injured and can no longer run? Sadly, I found out…
This past January, I was looking forward to completing Goofy’s Race and a Half Challenge during Walt Disney World Marathon weekend (running the half marathon on Saturday and then the full marathon on Sunday). I had successfully run it the year before and knew what to expect. And this past October, I qualified for Boston for the first time the day after I ran a half marathon. So running long distances on back to back days and completing this type of challenge was not something new to me.
Unfortunately, my plans didn’t work out the way I envisioned. On Saturday morning, lightning storms forced runDisney to cancel the half marathon. Although disappointed, it was the correct thing to do. I saw this as a chance to have an easy day and better prepare myself for the next morning’s marathon.
The morning of the marathon was extremely cold with temperatures in the 30’s – certainly not typical Florida weather even for January. The race started out okay. I had some tightness in my right hip for about a week leading up to the race that I attributed to a hip flexor strain (an injury I had dealt with in the past). I knew that with the cold weather and hip tightness, this wouldn’t be an amazing race, but I started out at a decent pace and hoped to just run consistently throughout.
By mile four as I approached Magic Kingdom, the tightness started to get worse. By mile eight I took a walk break to see if that would help – something I had never done in a previous race. By mile 12 I was walking with a limp; when we exited Animal Kingdom around mile 13, I was looking for a medical tent. By the time I got to the medical station at mile 14, I knew this race was over. My hip was throbbing. They wrapped my hip and thigh in ice packs and got me to the bus back to the finish line. At that point I could no longer walk. The slightest movement of my leg sent severe pain through my body and so I had to be pushed in a wheelchair. I had never experienced anything like this before.
I honestly still don’t know how I made it through the next several hours. I was alone in Disney World for this race but knew I wanted to just get home. Somehow I was able to shower, pack, get to the airport and fly back to Chicago. Yes, I had to be pushed in a wheelchair at the hotel and in the airport and had to hold onto a flight attendant’s shoulders as I hopped down the aisle to my seat. But I made it.
The next morning, I couldn’t deny the severity of my injury and went to the ER. After a few hours, one of the doctors gave me the news that would shape my life for the next several months. I had broken my hip. More specifically I had suffered a femoral neck stress fracture and needed surgery the next day. I was devastated.
To go from running eight to 10 miles a day to essentially doing nothing while on crutches for the six weeks after surgery was my worst nightmare. I was miserable during this time and had frequent mood swings. Yes, the surgery corrected me physically and I was no longer in any pain, but this injury really focused for me how much I had come to identify and even define myself as a runner. Taking that aspect of my life away left me questioning who I was.
Some days I cried, especially in the first weeks. Thankfully, the winter was relatively mild by Chicago standards and I was able to take lots of walks around my neighborhood (yes, on crutches). I talked to a sports psychologist to help me deal with my feelings and to begin to put this injury into perspective. And I dove into trying to find out why this had happened to me.
I was ultimately diagnosed with osteoporosis, which was a shock to me as a 41 year old man who had been taking daily calcium and vitamin D supplements for years. After running many more tests, the doctors never could determine any underlying cause for the osteoporosis. So I began taking medication to increase my bone density and I have been focusing on dietary sources of calcium and vitamin D even more than I was before.
After six long weeks on crutches I got the glorious news that I could start physical therapy and resume going to the gym to slowly ease back into cardio. I was determined to give the recovery process my all. I went to PT three times a week for several weeks, eventually working up to periods of running on their Alter G treadmill (which supports a percentage of your body weight and thus reduces your impact force). The first time I got in it, I had my therapist take my picture. I wanted to capture the moment I started running again.
I made my full return to running at this year’s Shamrock Shuffle, exactly 12 weeks after my injury. It was the first time I had run outside since the marathon. Yes, an 8K was probably ambitious for my first full run, but I was just happy to be there. It wasn’t a PR but it also wasn’t my worst time. Considering all I had been through, I ran a decent pace and was overjoyed at the finish line.
I continue to get stronger day by day and week by week. I still feel like my hip isn’t completely the same as it was before – but I can run without pain. In May I completed a runDisney challenge, running a 10K on Saturday and a half marathon on Sunday. My times were almost identical to my times from the previous year. In June, I ran a 5K PR and then ran my second fastest 10K later in the month.
I’m in training for the Chicago Marathon in October and plan to finish the Goofy Challenge at Disney World next January. And then there’s Boston next April. I’m hoping that this experience has taught me some lessons and made me a smarter runner. If anything, it has taught me to appreciate the moment and to feel grateful for every run. It’s taught me that there will always be another race. And it’s taught me that even when I can’t run, I am still a runner. Hopefully I have many, many more years of running and races ahead of me. I guess only time will tell.
Thanks for sharing your story. I had a stress fracture in my femur and didn’t realize it. It became a complete break in the last few miles of a half marathon. The race was a return to running goal race for me as I had surgery 10 months before to repair the labrum in my left hip. I had surgery on my right hip 6 weeks ago for the break. It was repaired with a dynamic hip screw, a anti rotation screw and a plate. It’s been difficult but I hope to have a smooth return to running when I’m ready.
Hi Marianne, I’m sure that was a painful injury. I hope your healing has gone well these last few months and you’re getting back to running. Jeff
Thanks so much for sharing. I was diagnosed with a femoral neck stress fracture two months ago after running my first marathon. Despite 8 weeks of non-weight bearing crutches, the fracture hasn’t healed so I’m scheduled to have hip pining surgery next week. I’m really hopeful the surgery will be successful and I’ll be running again soon. I’m glad to hear that you were able to get back into it!
Hi Becca, I hope your surgery went well and you’ll be feeling better soon. Recovery is a process. I’ve now had surgery in both hips and am still running — so I know you will get there! Jeff
Hi great article Jeff, I came off my bike in a 100 mile Timetrial race last july a couple of months before I was due to race my first ironman.
I fractured the top of my femur and had a dynamic hip screw fitted the next day.
Recovery has been long but I am on course to Boston Marathon in april.
Hi James, that sounds like quite an injury. I’m sure your recovery has been long but congrats on making it back to run Boston in April. When you cross that finish line, it will feel like even more of an accomplishment! Jeff
Great article. Difficult to find articles on Dynamic Hip Fixation & return to running. I’ve just had surgery on Saturday after a femoral neck fracture, I’m glad to read you have returned to running as I hope that’s in my future too.
Hi Caroline, I’m sorry to hear about your surgery. The recovery will be a process. I know it doesn’t feel like it right now but you will heal with time and get back to what you enjoy. Jeff
You have made my year. Broke neck of femur last autumn but undiagnosed for about 6 weeks until had a scan. Your description of tightness in hip is exactly as I felt but the Doctors were clueless. Anyway after scan had immediate op for dynamic hip screw. No idea how I broke hip but nearly 6 months on am desperate to run again and am going to go for a short one tomorrow. Great to know I’m not alone! Thanks
I had a hip pinning after running the NYC marathon 2 and a half years ago. Still really struggling to run. My times are way slower and the leg with the pinning ways tires out. Trying to remain optimistic but it’s really been tough. Any advice aporeciated! My other leg suffers from overcompensating all the time!
Thanks for sharing, Jeffrey! It helps to hear other people’s stories. I had a compression-side femoral neck stress fracture after running my first half marathon. I was advised that I would need hip screws fitted, which was a complete shock and distressing to hear. I’m 32 and most of the online resources for hip fractures are more relevant to the elderly! I was reluctant to have the surgery, but given that there was the risk of displacement and consequently the need for a hip replacement, I ended up agreeing to have the hip screws fitted. Also, I couldn’t find examples of anyone with this type of fracture who had had success (or even tried) letting it heal naturally. The emotional challenge was the hardest thing for me: accepting the need for surgery, having to remain inactive and seeing myself differently! It’s now been 6 weeks since my surgery (I’ve been fortunate enough to receive excellent care throughout the whole process here in Edmonton, Canada). I am off my crutches and beginning physio. I’ve also been swimming which I’ve found to really help alleviate stiffness. I hope to get back into running, though I’m wary of long-distance running. My ambition was to run a marathon – even if it’s just the one – but I’m in a little trepidation that the same thing could happen to my other hip and whether I’m really designed for it (I was told I have a slightly longer and higher angle femoral neck than average that put me more at risk). Part of me thinks I would be doing my body a favour by switching to non-impact exercises. I wonder if anyone else feels similarly? As a side note, I also hope to have the screws removed in about a year.
Thanks again to Jeffrey and everyone who has shared their stories. I wish everyone with similar injuries the very best. This fracture stops you in your tracks and there’s no denying the recovery process is slow, but each day is a step closer to walking and running!
I am recovering from a femoral neck stress fracture that resulted training for a marathon. I believe it resulted from too many miles on the treadmill, weak glute muscles and not staying on top of new shoes.
Anyway this whole process has been real frustrating and as I read other runners experience with this injury, my ortho has done something totally different which makes me uneasy.
I was diagnosed with a grade 3 FNSF in April. He said I didn’t need crutches but that I could swim and do might biking which I did for 6 weeks. Without additional scans, he cleared me to try running again which I did but it just felt off. So I got a 2nd opinion and was told not to run for another 6 weeks. This ortho said I could bike, swim or do the elliptical as well as PT. So I did all that, had another MRI 6 weeks later (12 weeks after onset) and stress fracture was slightly worse.
Last week I had 3 screws and a plate put in to stabilize . (I’m 38) Recovery has been good. No pain really besides the incision. He has even cleared me to “full weight bearing “ if I don’t have pain. So I have been walking without the crutches per his instructor. I feel fine but just worry that I won’t fully heal walking. He feels confident I will.
It’s been a long 5 months. I hope to be able to one day run and train again.
Although this is an old article, I’m posting my experience in case it helps others. On September 12th, 2020, I fell and suffered a femoral neck fracture and broken wrist. I had hip pinning and wrist surgery the next day.
I couldn’t use crutches because of my broken wrist so I was on a walker for a few days and then switched to a sick (a hiking pole!). I was walking unaided at about 10 days.
PT started almost immediately, twice a week for about 10 weeks. I was diligent about doing exercises at home also.
8 weeks after surgery, I started riding my bike outside. 9 weeks from surgery, I started on the AlterG treadmill at PT. Today, 12 weeks after the accident, I ran 5 miles with some walk breaks.
I am 58, low BMI, and have been running for 20 years, including marathons.
Thank you for sharing your story. I’m 28 years old and have to get an ORIF on my femoral neck stress fracture. I’m not quite as seasoned in running as you were when you got injured but I was finally getting good at distance running and found my love for running. I’m absolutely devastated that I’m losing all my progress and I’m very nervous about this surgery and recovery, but I’m glad I’ll be getting fixed. Running and hiking are my life and I’m so sad to have them taken away for a while. If you have any advice I’d love to hear back from you. There’s not a lot of info out there about recovery times, etc. thank you.