A stress fracture just sounds so stressful, and it absolutely is. A stress fracture shin is usually caused by overuse. It is a fracture caused by a physical stressor usually centered around long-term physical activities such as running.
Stress fractures typically occur in weight-bearing bones of the foot’s connecting bones. These bones take on the brunt of all of your weight every single day. While just typical walking pits stress on the feet and shins, running adds on so much more force for the bones to deal with. In an all out run, there are periods of time where the body will be fully off the ground. Each event of contact to running terrain immediately puts all of your mass on one foot at a time. It is no wonder that the foot area is such a source of complications.
The following is an overview of exactly what you need to know about stress fracture of the shin.
The Foot Bone is Connected to the Shin Bone
If you have ever played in competitive sports while growing up, chances are you’ve learned early on just how important shin protectors are. The lightest blow to the shin area could send a sharp pain that immediately radiates throughout the entire body.
The shin is a very fragile and sensitive bone, but why?
First, look into what the shin actually is. The human leg can be thought of as a three-part system. There is the femur which is also known as the thigh bone. Next is the connecting hinge apparatus also known as the knee. Below the knee is the lower leg. This segment has a lot going on.
Instead of one large bone like in the upper portion of the keg, the lower leg contains two smaller bones, the fibula and the tibia. The backside of the leg includes the fibula or calf bone which attaches to the hamstring. Hamstring injuries are a topic for a different day, however, as the location in question is on the opposite side.
The fibula is lucky in that its main responsibilities are making sure that the ankle stays stable and surrounding muscles stay anchored to it. The tibia is the larger of the two bones and is the anatomical term for the shin bone. Unfortunately for the tibia, it has been given the unenviable task of supporting all of the weight of the body that is located above the shin.
The tibia or shin bone not only has to deal with this tremendous workload, but it also is very sensitive to pressure because of its intimate position long to the world around you. The thin tissue covering the shin bone is loaded with pain receptors and since the tibia is not given the luxury of being surrounded by muscle or fat, these pain sensors are constantly being activated by anything that gets to close for comfort.
When proper footwear is worn during running, the much-needed arch support and shock absorption given to the foot is capable of displacing some of the forceful stress put into the shin. Running shoes are effective in keeping athletes in working order because they help they directly help take some of the pressure of the shins.
When the correct shoes for the job are not worn, this opens the door for a wide variety of potential sports related injuries such as a shin stress fracture.
Don’t Stress (Fracture)
You know now why a stress fracture has been giving that extremely suitable name, but what exactly is it, and how does it compare to similar bone breaks?
As opposed to a full break to a bone, a stress fracture is a small crack in the bone that usually can heal on its own but can bring with it some less than beneficial effects before that happens.
While a single stress fracture does not bring with it a tremendous pain, touching the exact location of the crack, can send an immediate danger sign immediately to the brain.
Touching a stress fracture means not only touching open bone, but also the torn tissue that usually guards the bone. Touching a shin stress fracture not only disrupts the natural healing process of the bone, but also means you are making direct contact with some of those pain sensors talked about earlier. It is these receptors job to sense pain, and directly touching them will make them scream. Don’t do that. They’ve already been through enough stress.
This pain felt by a stress fracture may not feel too severe, because it is not. A single stress fracture is not seen as a big deal by the body and brain and the pain receptors don’t have too much of a need to scream too much because it will heal on its own.
It is when these stress fractures begin to pile up and increase in number that more complications can occur. Each additional crack to the foundation will bring the system closer to failure and more pain will come as a result. Use one or two obtained stress fractures as a sign that you have to change a few things before you start having more serious injuries.
Stopping the Stress
Wearing proper athletic footwear with added support will lower the chance of too much stress being put in the shin, and thus lowers the chance of receiving a shin stress fracture.
Stress fractures are not only caused by improper footwear though. Just as a crack to the shin can be seen as a message to get new shoes, it can also be a sign to slow things down.
Whenever embarking on a new physical activity, it is important to take things slow. When the body is not used to certain movements, there is a lesser chance than it has taken the necessary steps to compensate for the movement. Just like the mind needs constant reinforcement in truly learning any subject material, any given body part needs to practice the movement of an activity or it can be damaged.
Even after becoming used to the movement, there is too much of a good thing. The shins could have great running shoes below them and know exactly how to withstand the impact, but too much of one action will eventually begin to crack bone. This is where cross training can come in handy.
Running too much will almost always result in some degree of stress fracture within the shin, even if it is never noticed. To give your shins a break once in a while, try swimming, which is infinitely less stressful to the shin and will allow it time to rest before being thumped by the pavement once again.
RICE is always great for stress fractures. Not the grain, but the acronym standing for rest, ice, compression, and elevation. Practicing all four components of the RICE system can greatly reduce the healing time for a stress fracture which can last for multiple months.
When time off looks like it has improved the crack, get back to hitting the pavement gradually to allow the area to get used to that movement again. A walking boot, soft cast, and crutches can protect and cushion the area—preventing more cracks from forming.
One of the best things you can do to help the healing process is to look internally instead of externally. Foods rich in calcium, phosphorus, flourish, potassium, and vitamin D will give the shin the nutrients required for new bone growth and the eventual healing that you’re looking for.
Key Takeaways from a Shin Stress Fracture
A shin stress fracture can be seen as a warning sign from your shins to slow down. A single crack in the armor can lead to more and more, and eventually significantly life altering complications can arise.
Proper shoe wear is one of the best things you can utilize to prevent any unnecessary stress. Keeping things fresh with a rotation of physical activity can reduce stress to the shins and keep them fully intact.
Although they usually heal on their own, steps can be taken to speed up the healing process and get your shins back to 100% stress-free.