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Shin Splints vs. Stress Fracture


Hey, it’s Jennifer. Today I want to talk about a common question we get from runners who are having shin pain: is it shin splints, or is it a possible stress fracture?

That’s an important distinction, because you would change how you treat either one of those. I want to go through a couple of tips to try to help you in your decision making.

A stress fracture is going to be really tender in a very pinpoint area. If you can put like one finger on it, and you’re like, “this is where it hurts” that’s more likely to be a stress fracture. If you have  a three finger breath, or it’s a  broader area that’s tender, that’s more likely shin splints, or medial tibial stress syndrome.

A second difference is how they behave. With a stress fracture, your pain is not going to warm up and go away. It’ll hurt during the run, all throughout the run, and then when you’re done, it might feel better. As it gets worse, it’s going to hurt during the run, it’s going to hurt after the run, and eventually, it’s going to hurt with all weight bearing activities. The goal is to not let it get that far. Compare that to shin splints, or medial tibial stress syndrome, which is going to hurt when you first start running, and then it might warm up and actually feel better. Depending on how far down the road you are, it might come back during the run, but there’s that point where it kind of warms up and feels better and doesn’t start hurting until later. Once you stop running, it feels better.

Those are a couple of differences between those two conditions. If you’re questioning that you might have a stress fracture, an X ray is a good place to start. Also just come in and we’ll help tease apart these two conditions. It’s important if you do have an injury to your bone, you want to unload that and let the bone heal versus the treatment for shin splints, where we want to increase your muscle capacity and kind of work through what running you can tolerate with some strengthening exercises.

There are different approaches to very different injuries. Let us know if you have any questions!

Here at Peak Endurance Performance & Physical Therapy we help active adults in the Madison Area get back to the activities they love without pain or limitations. We see people of all ages, ability levels, and individuals trying to get back to a multitude of movements including: getting back into running, women postpartum, CrossFit athletes, climbers, gymnasts, wrestlers, overhead athletes, and your recreational weekend warrior. If you’re looking to get back to the activities that give you meaning, relieve stress, and make you feel like you again, feel free to reach out below and we’ll see if we’re the right fit for you.