Stress fractures and shin splints are common but different injuries that are often due to overuse and improper training. Both of these conditions can only improve with rest and avoiding the activities that exacerbate symptoms, until the injury heals. Both can also become chronic or severe if not treated properly. If the symptoms of stress fractures or shin splints occur, it is important to immediately discontinue whatever activity is being performed and seek medical guidance.
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Shin splints occur when the bone, muscles and tissues in the front lower part of the leg become overloaded and/or fatigued. Shin splints can cause general tenderness or pain in the inside of the lower leg. Initially the discomfort may be mild and just occur during activities. If left untreated, the pain may become severe and occur even at rest, warns MayoClinic.com.
Stress fractures, which are small hairline cracks in the bone, tend to cause pain that is very localized over the site of the fracture. Stress fractures may also be worse during activity and better with rest, unless they are not allowed to heal.
Too much of the same activity such as kicking, running and jumping can fatigue the muscle and cause an inflammatory response in the muscles, tendons and tissue that covers the bone, notes the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. This can lead to visible swelling in the shin area. Having flat feet, abruptly changing a workout routine or surface, and wearing improper footwear can all contribute to this condition.
If shin splints do not respond to rest, ice, elevation and other conservative treatments, a physician may suspect a stress fracture, which can also cause swelling in the lower leg.
Shin splints and stress fractures can create feelings of tightness or restricted range of motion, states the National Council on Strength and Fitness. When the muscles in the lower legs are not able to keep up with the demands being placed on them, shin splints can develop. If an individual keeps working out, the force of the workout will be placed on the bone, which over time can develop stress fractures. As with pain and swelling, stiffness may at first just be mild and appear with activity. Without the right treatment, stiffness and pain may progress to the point that it becomes difficult to bear weight on the affected leg.