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Shin Splints vs. Lower Leg Stress Fracture

Know Your Injury: Shin Splints vs. Lower Leg Stress Fracture

I've officially said goodbye to my treadmill for the season and have been loving bringing my runs outside. My shins, on the other hand, have not been too psyched. I've been experiencing this shooting pain in my right shin when I run on the roads in my neighborhood. I assumed it was shin splints, since I've experienced them before in the Spring, but since I was only feeling it on one leg, a marathoner friend of mine suggested I see a doctor to rule out a stress fracture.

I freaked out a little, worried that I'd have to sideline my runs for a while, so I saw my doctor and learned the difference between the two running injuries. To find out if the pain you're experiencing is shin splints or a more severe injury, a stress fracture,


Both shin splints and stress fractures are considered overuse injuries. Shin splints occur when you get small tears in the area where the lower leg muscle attaches to the tibia, aka the shin bone. You'll experience a shooting, aching pain in the front of your lower leg(s) when running, but the pain goes away when you lower your intensity, stop running, or after your run is over. When you suffer shin splints, you don't feel the pain with other activities like walking, stretching, or climbing stairs.


Stress fractures, on the other hand, are caused by actual cracks or breaks in either of the bones in the lower leg, the tibia or fibula. If you suffer from this injury, you'll experience pain that's usually in the lower third part of the shin, tenderness or swelling in the specific injured area, and pain when you press on your shin. The pain doesn't subside when you stop running, and regular activities like climbing stairs or jumping will cause pain, too.

If your pain injury sounds more like shin splints, take a gradual approach whenever making changes to your routine. When switching to different running surfaces, run shorter distances. When increasing your pace, try adding in sprint intervals to your regular routine rather than doing the whole run at a faster pace. And when increasing mileage, follow the 10 percent rule. When you do strength and flexibility training, pay special attention to your shins by doing this toe lift move and this gentle stretch.

With a more severe stress fracture injury, see your doctor. They'll probably x-ray the area to check your bones. If they don't see a fracture, it doesn't mean there isn't one. The doc will x-ray you again later, and if they see that your bone is healing, they'll know you did indeed suffer a stress fracture. Unfortunately, they'll recommend you stop running and rest the area for six to eight weeks. You can do lower impact exercise like walking, swimming, deep water running, and weight training. If you don't rest your shins enough, the area may never heal properly. Once the pain begins to subside, you can start to work out. Just be sure to gradually build up time, distance, and intensity.

Luckily for me, I just have shin splints, but have you ever suffered from stress fracture? How about shin splints? Tell me below.

Join The Conversation
erinn15331567 erinn15331567 3 years
Hi, I don't run that often. I do run when I play rugby but the season hasn't started so I've ruled that out as a possibility. On the other hand, I do play hockey every week and jump rope every third day. I started experiencing pains in my shins, and thought that it was shin splints, but the more I read about it the more it seems like a stress fracture. The pain is not on my bone more as on the side of my lower shin. It feels like it is between the muscle and the bone. When I press on the area it really hurts. My shins always have a dull throb of pain in the beginning of a work out and then seem to goes a way as I workout but the second I stop it's sharp pains. It only seems to be getting worst and I am having trouble walking up stairs some days. Do I have shin splints or a stress fracture or maybe something worst.
angel-alli-111 angel-alli-111 4 years
Hi, I am a high school student that have had major shin splints on both shins. It all started almost five and a half months ago, close to six month of shin splints. I have been running track for a while and it only got worse. I have been told day after day not to run and sit out. However as a high school athlete you really don't want to sit out yet I didn't and I continued to run. Nobody really does that can relate to me. I am very concerned that I may have a stress fracture since it has only gotten worse. I can also pinpoint an area on both legs that really hurt. To make it worse I struggle to finish a track meet race because of my shins. I haven't told my mom or seen a doctor about it. What are the sighs that you have a stress fracture? I know it is bad but I honestly don't know what to do. Should I go to the doctor. I am scared that it will only be bad news.
Tyler14564895 Tyler14564895 4 years
Hi, I am a 17 year old high school student. I have suffered from a stress fracture in my lower left tibia, and I am currently still suffering from it now and I have just got another one in my right tibia. I run cross country and now I'm not sure if my cross country season will be brought to an end. I have suffered my entire high school career from injuries, I've probably had more x- rays than most people. A stress fracture can not be seen from an x-ray, it can only be seen by and MRI or Bone Scan. I have a big lump in my left tibia and a tiny lump in my right, my doctors are trying to figure out why I'm getting injured so easily. Especially when I'm just a kid! I wish I knew why, I don't do as much as other kids do, and I'm equally talented. But all these injuries have been ruining my career. I've always dreamed of playing sports in college and I'm probably not going to get to. If I could get some help on what I might have that is making this happen. Autoimmune diseases run in my moms side of the family. Please Help.
Ameisha14560410 Ameisha14560410 4 years
I have really sharp pains below my knee everytime I run and I would think it is healing after a few days but it return everytime I run. I thought this was shin splints but then the day I injure my leg nd a couple of days after it hurts when I climb stairs and jump but that does get better after a few days although its every single time I run it hurts and I have sports day next week and I'm doing 200m!!!! Please help
rajitdangrd rajitdangrd 4 years
I had severe pain in my shin. It had gotten quite tender. Like whenever I touched it, it pained really bad. I showed it to a doctor and he took an x-ray. There was a stress fracture. My six weeks are over. My orthopaedic had suggested that I meet him after six weeks. But, I really want to start again. Should I start running again?
Kerri14468123 Kerri14468123 4 years
I have suffered both shin splints and a stress fracture. About 2 years ago I thought I just had shin splints until the pain became very localized and constant in my right shin. An x-ray showed up a stress fracture in my fibula. I was told to wear a boot for 6 weeks however I made a poor decision to play at nationals after 4 weeks. It's now 2 years later and I stil get a lot of pain in the area even when I'm just laying in bed. It never healed properly so now I will probably get pain there the rest of my life. My advice- take the time to let your injury completely heal. 6 weeks off or a lifetime of pain??
swimmer64 swimmer64 4 years
Thanks for letting me know that I can still do weight training even with a stress fracture. I am a competitive swimmer, and during my off season from swimming I ran on my own on a treadmill for two weeks and had no issues whatsoever. But when I ran outside after a week I had terrible pain shooting through my lower shin where after forcing myself through running I could hardly walk. After a week of icing (using the frozen cup of ice massage method) and inactivity, it has healed to the point that I can walk and go up stairs very carefully without pain. I doubt I'd be able to return to running for a while though, as I wouldn't dare do any jumping. I have a stress fracture in my lowest third portion of my shin, and for the longest time I thought I had an ankle problem or just shin splints, but my doctor told me that it was definitely a stress fracture. I have to baby my shin for an additional two weeks, which means I have to literally scoot on my butt down the stairs and lead with my healthy leg when going up. My legs have been getting so weak over the past several days from such inactivity. My doctor told me that going up the stairs puts 3 times as much of my body weight on my shin as walking. 3 times in that small instant of time when one foot goes up a step and the back foot is off the ground. 3 times! Certainly I cannot lift 3 times my bodyweight on my legs, so in order to maintain leg strength, I guess I can do weight training on my legs (careful leg press, leg extension and curl). Calf raises, squats, and dead lifts ought to be a no no, because those seem to be too dynamic of exercises that would put a lot of stress on my shins and knees.
megan2012 megan2012 4 years
Thank you. Stress fractures seem like you can barely run. My shins hurts to even jog in warm ups and even walking up stairs but I can finish a whole workout squinching my face at the end. Like wearing a boot seems really not needed for me. Do you still think it may be a stress fracture?
jevinghall62 jevinghall62 4 years
If you have some bumps on your legs, it could be stress fracture. I have one lump on my right shin. I went to see the Emory Sports Medicine and they did an x-ray. Definitely a fracture. They told me if I don't stop running for a while, I may break my leg...made me wear the boot for 6 weeks. I did everything they said and since July last year, I still cannot run. I've tried maybe three times since and the pain can be excrutiating. I decided to bike instead and let my shin heal. If your coach is expecting too much from you, I would get another coach until my leg heals. You could cause injury that can last a lifetime and may never be able to run ever again. So not good.
megan2012 megan2012 4 years
I polevault at a university and i have been having shin pain when i run and jump for about 4 months. but lately my shins have been hurting really bad and i have lumps in my shins when i run my fingers down them. the lumps hurt really bad and only hurt where the lumps are. i have been going to my trainer and she said stretch and ice and i have been doing that for a week and they hurt worse. i think that they might be a stress fracture but they could be just shin splints im not sure? my coaches are expecting a lot out of me so rest isnt really an option unless it is serious.
Tina3439872 Tina3439872 4 years
Hi everybody. About seven months ago, during my high school tennis season, I started to expierence\u00a0 pain in the inside of the left leg. After seeing the physical trainer at my school, i was informed that i had a shin splint. She also told my that because i wasn't running long distances i was able to continue playing for the rest of the season. I would tape my shin before every practice or match and the pain would go away after i stopped playing. Ii continued to play tennis through the pain for the rest of the season and then started up my summer tennis season. Ii ended up getting compression sleeves for my shin because taping everyday was becoming annoying and wasteful. After a little while i started to feel shin splint pain in my right leg as well. I have been to several doctors, gotten orthodic inserts for my shoes and completely stopped my physical activity for six weeks now and still expierence extreme pain. I am in my high school's marching band but attend every practice in a wheelchair so i don't hurt my legs. I am in my seventh month of having what is called medial tibial stress syndrome. I have gotten multiple x-rays and a bone scan of my shins and was told i didn't have fractures. If anyone has any helpful tips or information on my situation it would be very appreciated. Also, words of wisdom, no matter how much you love running r playing a sport or doing an activity, if you have pain you should listen to you body and not test its limits.
Anne2961960 Anne2961960 5 years
I currently have a stress fracture upper tibia, after only running twice. \u00a0Progress is slow, its been 5 weeks now but I am off crutches and have a hinged brace so i can bend my knee. \u00a0Advice - be careful. If its painful, stop.
Alexis2660203 Alexis2660203 5 years
Thank you do much for posting this. I've been thinking I've just had shin splints, but after reading this I think I have stress fractures. My shins hurt on the inside of the bone but it's in the bottom of my leg. Close to my ankle area. And it doesn't just hurt when I excerise. It hurts to climb stairs, jump, and they ache just when I'm laying in bed. They hurt 24/7. Sometimes I can't even walk. And it makes me want to cry when they are touched. I've had them since 7th grade volleyball season. And I'm in 9th grade with track season almost over. They probably started out as shin splints but have gotten worse over the last almost three years. I want to go to the doctor cuz they hurt so bad but I have state track in 2 weeks and can't miss that. And I'm afraid that if I go to th doctor I won't be able to play volleyball. :/
Meg2582430 Meg2582430 5 years
I think I have stress fractures. I have taken a month off of running, and I keep having problems. I have finally been forced to stop even biking and swimming. I was concerned, so my mom decided to take me to a patient first clinic, which was dumb, because the doctor had no idea what she was doing, and she thought I had limes disease or early onset arthritis because she had never heard of having tibial stress fractures that weren't on the lower third of the bone. Then she said that "fine, if you want an x-ray, we'll do one just to be sure and nothing showed up, but I have pain in the bone, and this doctor was a general physician who didn't know much about bomes anyways, so I'm going to try to find a doctor who does. Any advice?
Kayla2578383 Kayla2578383 5 years
I have been experiencing a constant pain I my lower, inner right leg after track practice. It is very intense while running, even walking, and especially when slight pressure is applied to, and around it. I have invested in a better pair of runners; however, the pain has not subsided. After a quick trip to the doctor, he informed me that it is probably just a shin splint and that I should get better shoes. Hopefully it's not a stress fracture :( 
Kayla2578383 Kayla2578383 5 years
I have been experiencing a constant pain I my lower, inner right leg after track practice. It is very intense while running and even walking and especially when I apply slight pressure to it. I have invested in a better pair of runners; however, the pain has not subsided. After a quick to the doctor, he informed me it was probably just shin splints and to get better shoes. Now hopefully it's not a stress fracture :( 
zxcinman zxcinman 5 years
My shin on my left lower shin, near my ankle is hurting when im running pretty badly, my coach has dealt with shin splints and stress fractures and thinks i have shin splints. it hurts jumping up and down, starting and stopping, and even going up stairs as well as just walking around, currently he has me doing two miles a about a 6 flat pace since the pain isnt as severe the faster i go, may you possibly know what is going on? im thinking it might be a stress fracture.
derbylover derbylover 5 years
I don't know exactly what I have yet, but I think I'm close to stress fractures.., the pain stays long after I'm done skating (my sport is roller derby,thin sport court floor over concrete, we don't just roll.., have jumping & pushing hard also).. the pain is so intense during certain drills sometimes, that I can't even lift my foot... also they get weak and wobbly which forces me off the floor. Xray revealed nothing. The bad part about this is, it starts as soon as even just warmups... AND, I've just returned from being off 6 months for an injury! (so the rest has been there). I've had another injury in the past where I was out for 9 weeks and they (shins) were bad when I came back, but never THIS bad. I am at my ropes end..
steve71 steve71 5 years
Great post, was getting pains in my shins too and wondering what it was. Thanks for you advice ;)
Morgs14 Morgs14 5 years
I just recently have been given my results back from my bone scan. I have been told that I have severe shin splints in both shins as well as stress fractures intense in the left and minor in the right. My doctor is sending me to an ortho surgeon and told me I will be off running at least 2-3 months. It's been a year of this pain going on and finally someone has told me whats going on. I wasn't told I needed a boot or anything, but how can they heal when I'm continously on them?
mcerdx13 mcerdx13 5 years
I was diagnosed with a level one stress fracture while doing army basic training. I was discharged this month. I was in crutches for 2 weeks and 5 weeks in rehabilitation unit. I'm still having pain when i do some things (e.g. running, jumping, fast walking and standing too long). I want to ask how can it affect my life? Is it gonna affect my job when i try to apply?
Rachel3790 Rachel3790 6 years
I have stress fractures. I've had them for along time. I got them when I joined the Army. They did X-ray them and couldn't find anything but did tell me not to run. I have tried to run since but every time I do it starts hurting again. It's very not temp and it's not only from running only. Being on my feet all day does it too. If i take Ibuprofen and go to bed they will be better when I get up but it takes being totally off them to make them stop hurting. If anyone has any suggestions that would be great.
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