Sentara Martha Jefferson Monday: What’s the Difference Between a Shin Splint and a Stress Fracture?

Dr. Degnan with a patient Dr. Degnan with a patient

In many cases it can be difficult to tell the difference between shin splints and a stress fracture.

“Both of these conditions are similar in a number of ways,” said Dr. Greg Degnan with the Sentara Sports Medicine Center. “ They occur in the same populations, related to the same activities and they present with a lot of the same signs and symptoms.”

While a shin splint is an issue with the tissue surrounding the tibia, a stress fracture is an issues with the bone itself. Doctors says a physical exam is the first step to diagnosing the issue.

“In general, tibial stress fractures have an area of the tibia that is very specific and very focal in terms of the tenderness when we examine the patients, where shin splints tend to be more diffused along the length of the tibia,” noted Dr. Degnan.

The treatment options for each, however, are different.

“With shin splints, we have them treated symptomatically with ice, sometimes with anti-inflammatory medication, sometimes compressive wraps to minimize the swelling, and we have them back off on their activity” noted Dr. Degnan. “With a stress fracture, definitively you have to stop the activity.”

But, no matter what the injury, it’s typically related to overuse.

“It almost always relates to some level of unaccustomed overuse,” said Dr. Degnan.

For more information on this topic, call 1-800-SENTARA. If you have a question about your health you’d like us to answer, email healthquestions@nbc29.com.

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