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The key differences between Shin Splints and Stress Fracture are that shin splints affect the outer layer of the shin bone, causing irritation and inflammation of the outer connective tissue called the Periosteum. In contrast, a Stress Fracture causes a small hairline-sized break in the bone.
The symptoms of Shin Splints are typically diffuse pain along the front or inside of the shin bone, whereas the symptoms of a Stress Fracture are usually at a specific point on the shin bone.
Shin Splints and Stress Fracture symptoms progressively worsen with high-impact activities such as running, especially at faster speeds, and should improve with rest, while a Stress Fracture may be painful when walking.
When pressing your shin, pain is typically pinpoint specific for Stress Fractures, whereas Shin Splints are usually tender to touch along 2-3 cm of the shin.
The causes of Shin Splints and Stress Fractures are very similar. A sudden overload of the shin bone most often causes them. They can both be caused by activities such as running. However, Stress Fractures are more likely from jumping activities such as gymnastics, where shin splints are uncommon in this sport.
Bone health conditions such as Osteopenia and Osteoporosis increase your likelihood of developing a Stress Fracture.
Poor Biomechanics, such as poor pronation control of the foot or improper footwear, can increase the likelihood of developing both Shin Splints and a Stress Fracture.
Shin Splints can be diagnosed by a Physical Therapist based on a patient’s symptoms and a Physical Assessment.
In contrast, a Physical Therapist can clinically suspect a Stress Fracture, but a scan is required to confirm the diagnosis. An x-ray can identify a Stress Fracture, but if the scan results return, often the patient is often referred for an MRI as this is a more sensitive scan.
Related Article: Shin Stress Fractures
Both Shin Splints and Stress Fractures benefit from rest and anti-inflammatories for recovery; however, a Stress Fracture of the Shin requires typically 4-6 weeks in a walker boot.
A gait assessment and physical assessment of muscular strength and mobility of the foot and ankle are beneficial for both conditions, while advice on the correct footwear and insoles can help.
A comprehensive rehabilitation programme is required for both conditions to address strength deficits, reduced range of motion and improved walking and running gait.
Icing and a brace can help Shin Splints pain, while cross-training with swimming and cycling is beneficial for maintaining cardiovascular health for both conditions.
Steroid injections or surgery are rarely required for either condition.
This is not medical advice and we recommend a consultation with a medical professional such as James McCormack before trying any of these exercises. James offers Online Physiotherapy Appointments for £45.