Shin Splints vs Stress Fractures
With spring track season now underway for over 3 weeks, in New Jersey, we thought it would be good to explain the difference between shin splints vs stress fractures of the lower leg.
A shin splint is an inflammation of the tissue running along the bone in the shin. Shin splints develop when the muscles and tissues tear due to the repeated pounding of running. This is usually caused by inflexible calf muscles in the back of the lower-leg, improper shoe choice, shoes that are not providing enough cushion, or ramping distance too quickly. A stress fracture is a very small crack or group of cracks that forms in the bone itself, similar to the white crease that would develop if you bent a credit card a few times.
The major difference in differentiating between a shin splint and a stress fracture is usually what we call “point tenderness”. With a shin splint, if you run your fingers along the shin, it will usually hurt all along the bone as you pass your fingers down the leg. With a stress fracture, there is usually one specific spot (or multiple spots) that hurts really badly. These spots are usually about the size of dime. The rest of the area will be much less tender. In addition, people with stress fractures will also have pain with walking, sitting and even sometimes complain of pain that wakes them up from sleeping at night.
Stress fractures are much less common than shin splints. In most cases, a shin splint is a more likely explanation for shin pain, especially in new runners.