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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.

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