The words “stress fracture” strike fear into all runners and athletes. It can mean no running for up to four to six weeks, but there are ways to prevent stress fractures. It is about listening to your body and recognizing the signs.
Stress fractures are small cracks that have not yet gone completely through the bone. The shin is the most common site for a stress fracture. At first it is felt as a “shin splint,” which is most commonly used as an overarching term to describe pain in the front of the shin. However what is referred to as a shin splint is actually when there is inflammation of the muscle around the tibia and in some cases starts to pull away from the bone, causing pain along the inside of the bone. If treated, a stress fracture can be avoided. If left untreated, the continuation of the muscle pulling away can cause the bone to crack. The pain will progress and become more focused in a smaller area of the shin.
There are measures that can be taken to prevent both shin splints and stress fractures.
The most important treatment is time. Give your body rest and stay away from weight-bearing exercises. Icing and heating the shin can reduce inflammation and pain. Cross training that includes activities such as swimming and biking can be can be excellent alternatives for many people.
References: Running Times, “A Stress Fracture Primer”. http://www.runnersworld.com/injury-treatment/stress-fracture-primer
University of Wisconsin Sports Medicine, “Shin Splints”. http://www.uwhealth.org/sports-medicine/clinic/shin-splints/11477