Background: The training of elite infantry recruits takes a year or more. Stress fractures are known to be endemic in their basic training and the clinical presentation of tibial, femoral, and metatarsal stress fractures are different. Stress fracture incidence during the subsequent progressively more demanding training is not known. The study hypothesis was that after an adaptation period, the incidence of stress fractures during the course of 1 year of elite infantry training would fall in spite of the increasingly demanding training.
Materials and methods: Seventy-six male elite infantry recruits were followed for the development of stress fractures during a progressively more difficult training program composed of basic training (1 to 14 weeks), advanced training (14 to 26 weeks), and unit training (26 to 52 weeks). Subjects were reviewed regularly and those with clinical suspicion of stress fracture were assessed using bone scan and X-rays.
Results: The incidence of stress fractures was 20% during basic training, 14% during advanced training and 23% during unit training. There was a statistically significant difference in the incidence of tibial and femoral stress fractures versus metatarsal stress fractures before and after the completion of phase II training at week 26 (p=0.0001). Seventy-eight percent of the stress fractures during phases I and II training were either tibial or femoral, while 91% of the stress fractures in phase III training were metatarsal. Prior participation in ball sports (p=0.02) and greater tibial length (p=0.05) were protective factors for stress fracture.
Conclusion: The study hypothesis that after a period of soldier adaptation, the incidence of stress fractures would decrease in spite of the increasingly demanding elite infantry training was found to be true for tibial and femoral fractures after 6 months of training but not for metatarsal stress fractures. Further studies are required to understand the mechanism of this difference but physicians and others treating stress fractures should be aware of this pattern.