Shin Splints or Stress fracture?

One of the scariest overuse injuries for an avid runner to be diagnosed with is a stress fracture.  For this reason, often times runners who have nagging injuries that will not subside, worry that it might be a stress fracture.  One of the most common places for stress fractures to occur are in the front of the lower leg, on the “shin bone”. Often times, runners have a hard time determining the difference between “shin splints” and stress fractures.  Today, I will give you a few differentiating criteria:

  1. Training level: usually, but not always, shin splints occur at the start of a training program, more often in novice runners.  Stress fractures tend to occur with a more high mileage program.
  2. Pain specificity:  Shin splints tend to be felt in a line along the shins with activities or when pressing along the shins, stress fractures are typically isolated to one specific point that can be felt during activities and when pressed on.
  3. When the pain occurs: Shin splints typically are felt only with activity of higher intensity, like running.  Usually, the pain eases or completely subsides with lower activities like walking. They often can feel better after a warmup. Stress fractures can be felt with every step of impact and are often felt even when walking.  
  4. Improvement with rest:  Shin splints tend to feel better after a period of a few days rest, where stress fractures will continue to cause pain, unless significant time is taken for rest from running (4-8 weeks, depending on location and severity)

If you have questions about what to do to help treat and prevent stress fractures and shin splints, you would be interested in my Ebook, Pain-Free Running.  Check it out!

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