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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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erinn15331567 erinn15331567 32 weeks 5 days
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 1 year 14 weeks
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 1 year 14 weeks
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 1 year 14 weeks
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 1 year 18 weeks
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 1 year 18 weeks
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 1 year 24 weeks
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 1 year 32 weeks
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 1 year 32 weeks
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 1 year 32 weeks
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.
Kayla2578383 Kayla2578383 2 years 21 weeks
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 2 years 21 weeks
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 2 years 28 weeks
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 2 years 32 weeks
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 2 years 44 weeks
Great post, was getting pains in my shins too and wondering what it was. Thanks for you advice ;)
Morgs14 Morgs14 2 years 47 weeks
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 3 years 6 weeks
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 3 years 9 weeks
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.
Schwootzy Schwootzy 3 years 15 weeks
I am a 43 year old female that is "attempting" to recover from a severe stress fracture of the lower rt leg. De to medical issues, I have not been able to run or anything of the sort for a couple of years now. I do have a very physical job that I believe caused my stress fracture. I noticed the pain on April 17, 2011. I went to the local Medstop on April 20th or 21st, they assumed I had a blood clot and ordered a venous Doppler which was negative. Their instructions were to "take Vicodin, stay off of it & see primary physical." which I did. I saw primary physical. On April 26th and he gave me a steroid shot, a new script for NSAID & referred me to orthopedic. When primary doc made appt. With ortho, he didn't put a STAT order on it therefore I had to wait until May 19th to see ortho. I the mean time, I am still working (climbing ladders, stairs, pushing & pulling heavy equipment) 10 hours a day 4 - 5 days a week. Ortho immediately placed me in a boot & ordered nuclear bone scan which showed definite stress fracture. Now, I have no idea how long this will take to heal and I'm miserable in this boot that goes from my knee to passed my toes. the rally sad thing is, I didn't have to have a referral to see a specialist (ortho). Had I gone straight to him, my stress fracture would have been much smaller than it was by the time I actually saw him. I really thought I had shin splints but I NEVER had anytime with out pain. It didn't matter if I was walking or resting there was a deep constant throb that only got worse with movement. I can see why the Medstop would suspect a blood clot, but the one & only clot I have ever had (from becoming active too soon after knee surgery) felt more like a constant severe cramp in my entire calf muscle, nothing like my stress fracture. I guess my message would be that if you suspect you have shin splints or a stress fracture, don't waste any time getting it diagnosed & treated. I guess the moral here is
4 years 3 weeks
My sophomore year in high school i suffered a stress fracture in my femur. At first I had no idea what it was because who ever heard of a stress fracture in your femur? But I had an x-ray and a bone scan and i had a large crack along the lining of my femur. My track season was ruined and even part of my cross country season for my Junior year was too. I was on crunches for 11 weeks. Now my senior year of high school im having major shin problems just in my left shin on the inside of my leg and it wont go away even if i continue running for awhile. it just gets worse. im not sure if this is just shin splints or a stress fracture. hopefully just shin splints :)
CRISTI86SAN CRISTI86SAN 4 years 18 weeks
HMMM... this is interesting. I thought I had shin splints too, but my pain lasted for a few days. Thanks for letting us know the difference.
saradd saradd 4 years 19 weeks
I also experienced this problem this winter when I really started to try running again. My husband who is a runner told me it was just shin splints and that I needed new shoes, but apparently I had a stress fracture. If I would run it would hurt for days and I couldn't make it up or even worse down a flight of stairs. Thank goodness I've been lazy and haven't ran for two months, maybe now I'm healed!
4 years 19 weeks
Wow.... evidently I have had stress fractures this year. I took a break this winter (it got WAY too cold to run outside) and I guess I started out a little too strong, because I ran for less than a week and I had MAJOR pain on my lower shins when I would walk, kick my foot when sitting, or squat down to pet my dogs. I guess I did the right thing because that was back in February and I waited until they quit hurting and have slowly picked back up on my running (I don't have insurance so I avoided the Dr.). Crazy (bc I do not run that far or for very long, really!). I'm going to try walking a little bit more like others mentioned... hopefully that helps prevent it from happening again. :0( They SUCK.
Susmita Susmita 4 years 19 weeks
I've gone through both shin splints and stress fractures at the same time, about five years ago. Fractures were on my lower leg as well as at the top of my tibia near my knee. Frankly, they didn't hurt nearly as much as the shin splints, which would reduce me to hobbling home. But the silver lining of all that was that it prompted me to start biking to work in the spring through fall seasons, as a way to cut back on the running -- and this is now my fifth year of bike-commuting! www.vegrun.blogspot.com
4 years 19 weeks
yes ive gone through a stress fracture. it was TERRIBLE. like i would wake up screaming in the middle of the night because it hurt so bad.