But at Trent Bridge here on Friday those times of injury torment seemed long past as he enjoyed the greatest day of his career so far.
Anderson recorded Test-best figures with both bat and ball to leave England in a dominant position as they looked to take their series with New Zealand 2-0.
Now the 25-year-old Lancashire quick wants to use this performance to mark the transformation of his Test career from a frige player to a key member of the England side.
Anderson took all six wickets to fall as the Black Caps collapsed to 96 for six at stumps on the second day of the third and final Test, still 69 runs short of avoiding the follow-on.
In overcast conditions perfectly suited to his swing bowling style, he routed New Zealand's top order with six for 42, surpassing his previous Test-best of five for 42 against India at Lord's in July last year.
Earlier in the day Anderson, who bowls right-handed and bats left, had scored 28 topping his previous mark of 21 not out against South Africa at Lord's in 2003.
Together with Stuart Broad, whose 64 was his Test-best score, he added a valuable 76 for the eighth wicket as England, who had slumped to 86 for five, were bowled out for 364.
It may not have been an all-round effort to rival the efforts of West Indies legend Sir Garfield Sobers, who was among the crowd at a ground where he starred for Nottinghamshire in the 1960s and 70s.
But even the great man, himself a superb swing bowler, may not have too many times in his glittering career where he recorded his best batting and bowling figures on the same day.
"To get through the stress fracture, you've got to be positive," said Anderson, who in five years since making his debut five years ago has played in just 25 Tests.
Often reduced to bowling at cones in practice sessions while others made it into the side, Anderson was recalled for the second Test against New Zealand in Wellington in March and has not looked back since.
Asked if he felt he was now a major player, Anderson replied: "I'm getting there. I'm not there yet. I've only shown glimpses of what I can do."
The softly-spoken Anderson, who has the ability to make the ball swing late both ways off a good length and at sharp pace too, does not conform to the stereotype of the macho fast bowler.
And he admitted that a setback early in a match could leave him on the backfoot.
"When I have a dodgy innings I have a dodgy game, hopefully I can limit it to one every four or five. Today was ideal. I bowl at my best when the ball is swinging."
It was a memorable day too for Broad, the son of former England opening batsman Chris.
Broad, who like his father is now playing here for Nottinghamshire, made his name as a schoolboy cricketer as a batsman and it was easy to see why as he struck several textbook cover-drives.
"I'm delighted to get 64 today, hopefully there are few more runs in the bank," Broad said. "We watched our stumps and made them bowl to us."
Anderson was almost as pleased by his batting as his bowling. "I've worked hard on my batting. Me and Broady looked to get to 300, 320, so to get to 360 is a nice one. This is probably the best day I've had."
New Zealand opener Jamie How, top scorer in New Zealand's innings so far with 40, was in no doubt of Anderson's quality.
"Anderson swung the ball nicely both ways. He's a good bowler when he gets his tail up."
England who came from behind to win the second Test by six wickets at Anderson's Old Trafford home ground, again made New Zealand pay for not ramming home their early advantage.
"We are a very young team and we are learning," said How. "Our backs are against the wall but we'll be giving it our best shot."