Soft Tissue Running Injury or Stress Fracture?

Another good question posted on my advice-for-athletes page last week, this one from Korey:

Hey Marshall, running has always been a part of my life one way or another but in the last year I’ve gotten more serious about it.

Recently I’ve started getting bad pains on the insides of my ankles and am assuming it is shin splints (maybe a stress fracture?). I’m thinking new shoes may help (getting Newtons) to help my over-pronation, which could be the cause of it.

Just curious if you have any ideas of how to solve this issue, or other possible causes and what to do from here.

Thanks so much.

My response to Korey:

Although people commonly use the term “shin splints” to refer to just about any pain at the front of the lower leg, symptoms of true shin splints occur at the front inside of the shin bone. Sounds like your pain is localized to the ankle, so you may be experiencing tendonitis or soft tissue trauma in that area, caused by the repetitive motion and impact of running.

Since you’re worried that it’s a stress fracture, you’d be wise to get that checked out. Soft-tissue injuries *can* heal on the fly, but a hairline crack in a weight-bearing bone could lead to serious problems. (It’s worth noting that you can’t really tell which one it is just by the frequency of pain: With both, pain can be worst at the beginning and end of exercise, and moderate in the middle.)

If you conclude you’re dealing with soft tissue, the most effective treatment would include reducing inflammation: resting, icing, stretching the muscles of the lower leg, cross-training including swimming, cycling or running in water … all of these things help, and you’re right—shoes with good cushioning and stability will aid in recovery.

Also: applying heat, particularly before training, and a shin or calf support will add support and compression to the lower leg, which can help reduce strain on the muscles. Those supports/wraps will also retain the heat generated naturally by the body that can cause blood vessels to dilate and increase blood flow which speeds healing.

Best of luck to you!


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1 Response to Soft Tissue Running Injury or Stress Fracture?

  1. These stress fractures are easily picked up by a simple bone scan. But they are a bit difficult to heal since the runners are not ready to take rest and let it heal. Its only when it gets too troublesome is when many feel like starting treatment which is quite wrong too. Early diagnosis and treatment is a must to prevent chronic pain in stress fractures.
    Fracture Healing´s last blog post ..Bone Fracture Healing

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