Is It More Than Just Shin Splints?

Health & Medical Blog

When you're running and you're experiencing some shin pain, the common response is to assume it's just shin splints. You can take it easy for a week, ice your shins a little, and maybe do some stretching exercises. With any luck, the pain eases up, and you can get back to training. But sometimes, the pain comes back — and that might be because you're dealing with more than just shin splints. You might actually have a stress fracture. Here's a look at the symptoms of tibial stress fractures and how they are treated.

The Symptoms of Tibial Stress Fractures

The tibia is the main bone that forms your lower leg. It is under a lot of stress when you run, and over time, this can cause a crack-like fracture in the bone. The main symptom of a stress fracture is pain in the shin, which is why runners often initially assume they have shin splints. However, if the following statements ring true for you, then it is likely you have a stress fracture and not just shin splints.

  • Your pain is mild at the beginning of the run, but it worsens throughout the run.
  • The pain is worst at one very small area along your shin.
  • You experience pretty intense pain when you press on the painful area with your fingers.
  • The pain does not subside after a week or rest and icing.

If you suspect you may have a stress fracture, do not keep running. Your body will not heal the fracture if you continue to put the bone under stress. Instead, make an appointment with a sports medicine doctor for diagnosis and treatment.

Diagnosing and Treating Stress Fractures

A sports medicine doctor can easily diagnose a stress fracture with a simple x-ray. The break is usually very visible on a radiograph image.

If you do have a stress fracture, then your doctor will work with you to create a treatment plan. A cast is not usually necessary, but you may need to wear a supportive, padded boot for a few weeks. You will probably be prescribed NSAID pain relievers to take, which will not only reduce the pain but also keep inflammation under control. And of course, you'll need to ice the injury daily.

Your sports medicine doctor should also work with you once you start running again. Most patients can start running again after 6 weeks, but you'll have to take things slow and increase your mileage and intensity slowly to avoid re-fracturing the tibia. Your doctor can work with you, and perhaps also with your coach, to devise a training plan to get you back in action safely.

Often, shin pain in runners is just shin splints, but you should always be aware of the possibility of a stress fracture, too. Stress fractures require careful treatment and rehab, which should be overseen by a sports medicine doctor.


7 April 2021

Take Your Health Into Your Own Hands

My name is Katie Langer. For a long time, I was bed ridden and I felt like I had no control over my life. I simply went along with what was instructed by my doctor and I didn't ask questions. It wasn't that my doctor wasn't willing to work with me, but I preferred to simply not think about the illness I was suffering from. I didn't realize that some of the symptoms I was suffering from were side effects of my medication and were not normal. After communicating more with my doctor, I was able to alleviate my symptoms. Since then, I've taken an interest in patient-doctor relationships and how to improve them.