Bone Density and Strength Training

I’m not perfect. When I look back at my quest to become a better runner, there are some changes I would make if I could turn back the years (or the decades!). This is a post about bone density. Some of you know that I had a femoral neck stress fracture this winter. It was a surprising injury because although I cross-train intensely, I only average about 35 miles per week, never more.

I’m 37 years old. When I was 24, I had some lower back pain and given that I was 1) female 2) underweight and 3) white, my doctor decided I should have a bone density test. Most women don’t have them at this young age but I agreed. I was running at my peak and willing to explore all possibilities. I was devastated when the results came in: osteopenia. I was on my way to having osteoporosis. I was in denial more than anything; I had never had an eating disorder and never had amenorrhea, despite running 70 miles per week and an underweight BMI for life. I did nothing to get better. I put the results out of my mind. Fast forward to when I was 33 and my doctor wanted a follow-up scan. I had just breastfed my two children for four years straight and the results were as expected. The ostepenia had progressed. Still, I did nothing. I did not take calcium or Vit D. Why? I don’t know — denial, I guess.

Then something changed. When my kids were young, I didn’t try to compete. I only played around with running but nothing serious. My husband Ethan started doing these crazy OCR workouts and because I’m a great copycat, I played around with the idea of adding strength to my runs. I would go to the trails and every mile stop for push-ups, walking lunges, burpees etc… anything I could do on the trails, run another mile and repeat a bunch of times. Then came the goal of my first pull-up. Before I knew it, I was doing 15 without a break (yeah, strict ones!). I was lifting heavier, I was running and competing and winning again! I qualified for the US Mountain Running Team and finished 9th overall at Worlds, 1st American. I was at a high point in my running career.

Then, I fell. Not literally, but the stress fracture happened and those bone density scans were back in the forefront. I made an appointment for a third scan. I knew deep down in my heart what the results would tell me. I cancelled the appointment. My husband told me I needed to know. I rescheduled the appointment. I went in on crutches, sweating, sick to my stomach, feeling that my second chance at competitive running was about to come to an end.

The cool thing about bone density exams is that you get the results as you are putting your shoes back on. I am still underweight for my height. I stood up on my crutches. “Wow,” said the tech. You are normal. You gained a lot of bone density since your last scan, which was completed on this very same machine. I was in shock. Normal? How? Nothing changed… I did everything wrong. Wait, no… I didn’t do everything wrong. I started lifting. I lifted a lot, high reps with low weight, low reps with heavy weight. It made my bones strong and I was…. normal. You can’t imagine my relief. The funny thing is that I’m finally taking calcium and Vit D everyday. I share this story so that my women running friends and acquaintances consider getting tested. The results may not be what you want to hear but there is something you can do about it.

In my next post, I’ll share why I found myself with a femoral neck stress fracture. Hint: it was because of weakness in a very important muscle! A muscle that I can now test! It wasn’t enjoyable to spend my winter on crutches and then slowly regain my strength but it is why I am inspired to do this kind of work.

2 thoughts on “Bone Density and Strength Training

  1. Hi Kim! Congratulations on launching your new venture. That is really exciting (and probably a bit frightening but that is as it should be). I am really curious about your bone density scans and the changes across the 3 scans. Do you know/remember how they were done? Was it full body densitometry with you lying on a table and getting a full scan from head to toes? Or was it on a full-body scanner but the scan itself specific to the spine or femoral neck? No hurry, just get back to me when you have “extra” (ha!) time.
    Barry

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    1. Hi Barry! Thanks for the nice words. All three scans tested specific bones. I think my spine, pelvis and femur. When a bone is healing, apparently they cannot look at density so we didn’t look specifically at the femoral neck. Fortunately we were still able to compare results because my previous scan (which was on that same machine) also measured the femur of my right leg (fracture was in left). Okay, actually we measured my wrist too and technically that was in the osteopenic range that didn’t concern me as much. You’ll have to stay tuned for my next post because I did determine why I ended up with this difficult injury. I know you’ll find the results interesting. 🙂

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