Home News and Updates Shin splints versus stress fractures. What’s the difference?

Shin splints versus stress fractures. What’s the difference?

Shin splints versus stress fractures. What’s the difference_a
Photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash

Shin splints are characterised by inflammation of the muscles, tendons and bone tissues surrounding the tibia, also known as the shin bone. Stress fractures, on the other hand, are tiny cracks in the bone. However, both conditions are caused by the same problem, overloading.

Shin splints refer to pain along the shin bone and are common in athletes, especially runners, dancers, and gymnasts. This condition is also known as medial tibial stress syndrome, as it often occurs in athletes who have recently intensified their training routines, putting added stress on their shin bone. In the vast majority of shin splint cases, treatment involves rest, ice, and other self-care measures, as with most inflammatory and strain injuries. To prevent future recurrence of shin splints, it is advised that you wear appropriate footwear and modify your exercise routine accordingly.

Whilst shin splints are characterised by pain caused by stress to the bone; stress fractures cause actual damage to the bone. They are common amongst athletes, especially long distance runners, due to repeat force and overuse of the limbs. This injury is most common in the weight-bearing bones of the lower leg and foot. Treatment for stress fractures, as with shin splints, is lots of rest. However, you may be asked to wear a walking boot or use crutches to further reduce the weight-bearing load on the limbs.

It is worth remembering that, although predominately occurring in athletes, stress fractures and shin splints can also develop from the normal use of a bone that is weakened. This arises with conditions such as osteoporosis.  

How to tell these two conditions apart?

The main determinant between shin splints and stress fractures is pain. With a stress fracture, the pain will get progressively worse as you run and will continue to persist at a localised point once you have finished exercising. With shin splints, on the other hand, the pain tends to present over a broad area and will cause swelling and significant discomfort, but does not stop physical activity. Once you have warmed up, shin splints also tend to dissipate. Moreover, shin splints exclusively occur in the lower leg; whereas stress fractures, although common in the weight-bearing bones of the lower leg and foot, can occur in any bone.

Treatment with regenerative medicine

As mentioned, treatment of these injuries tends to focus on rest and exercise modifications; however, you may experience persistent shin splints or stress fractures, which has a significant impact on your daily activities. This is where regenerative medicine, specifically platelet rich plasma (PRP), comes in. You can read more about how this treatment works here.


Preclinical studies have emphasised the potential value of PRP injections in stress fractures. This technique is capable of shortening the fracture healing time so you can be back on your feet in as short a time as possible. PRP injections have also shown great promise in the treatment and prevention of shin splints. 

At Opus, we are able to thoroughly assess your condition and provide you with evidence-based techniques underpinned by the current research to ensure the greatest chance of success on your journey. Get in touch today to book a consultation with one of our world renowned doctors.

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