People may typically associate shin pain with shin splints. However, other issues can also cause shin pain.
Medial tibial stress syndrome, or shin splints, is the inflammation of the tendons, muscles, and bone tissue around the tibia. People describe shin splint pain as sharp, or dull and throbbing.
According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS), shin splints are a common cause of shin pain, there are many other causes of shin pain, such as an injury, bone bruise, or stress fracture.
This article will cover a range of reasons why a person may have shin pain, as well as symptoms, treatments, and how to prevent them.
1. Minor injury
A sports injury, bruise, or stress fracture may cause shin pain.
A person who has an injury to their shinbone from a fall or blow may experience some pain or bruising.
1. Symptoms of a minor injury can include:
– a bump
– weakness or stiffness in the leg
Minor injuries due to a blow to the shin will generally heal quickly. A person with a minor injury to their shin can treat it in the following ways:
using an ice pack, making sure not to place ice directly on the skin
lightly wrapping the injury in a bandage
elevating the leg above the heart to help stop any bleeding or swelling
2. Bone bruise
A bone bruise on the shin can occur due to injury, such as a fall or playing sports.
A bone bruise occurs when a traumatic injury to a bone damages blood vessels and blood and other fluids build up in tissues. This causes discoloration to the skin around the damaged area, but the injury is typically deeper than the familiar bruises that appear on the skin.
Although a person can bruise any bone, bones nearer the skin, such as the shin, are most common.
It is not always possible to detect whether the bruise is a superficial skin injury or on the bone. According to one article, symptoms of a bone bruise on the shin can include:
prolonged pain or tenderness
swelling in the soft tissue or joint
discoloration in the injured area
A person can treat their bone bruise in the following ways:
using pain medication
raising the leg to reduce swelling
wearing a brace to limit movement if required
For more severe bruises, a doctor may need to drain the bruise to remove excess fluid.
3. Stress fracture
Stress fractures occur when muscles become tired through overuse, and they are unable to absorb any extra stress.
When this happens, the muscle transfers the stress to the bone. This causes tiny cracks, or stress fractures, to form.
According to the AFP, females, athletes, and military recruits are at higher risk of developing stress fractures.
Stress fractures can be the result of:
increasing physical activity suddenly
wearing improper footwear, such as worn or inflexible shoes
running more than 25 miles per week
repetitive, high-intensity training
Females, athletes, and military recruits are all at a higher risk of developing stress fractures, according to the AFP.
Symptoms of a stress fracture in the shinbone include:
shin pain when touching or putting weight on the leg
tenderness at the site of injury
swelling at the site of injury
A stress fracture requires immediate treatment to prevent the small crack from getting bigger.
A person who has a stress fracture can treat it in the following ways:
taking anti-inflammatory drugs
using a compression bandage
4. Bone fracture
The shinbone is the long bone that people fracture most often, according to the AAOS.
A fracture to the shinbone can occur due to significant trauma to the leg, such as from a car accident or a bad fall.
Symptoms of a fractured tibia include:
severe, immediate pain
deformity of the leg
possible loss of feeling in the foot
bone pushing out skin, or poking through the skin
If a doctor suspects a person has broken their shinbone, they will confirm it with an X-ray.
Treatment for a fracture will depend on the type of fracture a person has. For less serious fractures, treatment involves:
wearing a splint until the swelling reduces
wearing a cast to immobilize the leg
wearing a brace to protect and support the leg until fully healed
If the person has an open fracture or one that does not heal with nonsurgical methods, it may require surgery.
5. Adamantinoma and osteofibrous dysplasia
According to the AAOS, adamantinoma and osteofibrous dysplasia (OFD) are rare forms of bone tumors that often begin growing in the shinbone. There are many similarities between the two tumors, and doctors think that they are related.
Adamantinoma is a slow-growing, cancerous tumor that accounts for less than 1% of all bone cancers.
Adamantinoma can spread to other parts of the bone. According to the National Cancer Institute, adamantinoma typically appears in young people after their bones have stopped growing.
OFD also accounts for less than 1% of all tumors in bones. It is a noncancerous tumor that does not spread and often forms during childhood.
A third type of tumor called OFD-like adamantinoma contains cancerous and noncancerous cells and does not spread to other parts of the body.
The most common symptoms of both tumors include:
swelling near the tumor site
pain near the tumor site
fracture due to the tumor weakening the bone
bowing of the lower leg
A healthcare professional will observe and suggest X-rays for both OFD and OFD-like adamantinoma.
If the tumor causes the leg to bow, the doctor may recommend wearing a brace.
If the tumor causes deformity or bone fractures, a doctor may recommend surgery.
Adamantinomas will require surgery to remove them as they do not respond to chemotherapy or other cancer treatment.
6. Paget’s disease of the bone
Paget’s disease of the bone is a disease of the skeleton that causes newly forming bone to become abnormally shaped, weak, and brittle.
After osteoporosis, Paget’s disease is the second most common bone disorder, according to a 2017 review,
Although Paget’s disease can affect any bone in the body, it mainly appears in the spine, pelvis, femur, and shinbone.
Up to 70% of people with Paget’s disease will have no symptoms. However, if symptoms are present, they can include:
bending of bones
loss of sensation or movement
loss of appetite
If a person does not experience any symptoms from Paget’s disease, a doctor may simply monitor it. Treatments for Paget’s disease can include:
using a cane or brace
7. Fibrous dysplasia
Fibrous dysplasia is a rare, noncancerous bone condition.
According to the AAOS, around 7% of all benign bone tumors are fibrous dysplasia.
People with fibrous dysplasia will experience abnormal fibrous tissue growth in the place of normal bone.
Fibrous dysplasia most commonly occurs in the:
Very rarely, fibrous dysplasia can become cancerous, although this occurs in less than 1% of people.
Symptoms of fibrous dysplasia include:
a dull ache that worsens with activity or gets worse over time
curving of leg bones
issues with hormones
Signs that fibrous dysplasia has turned cancerous include rapid swelling of the region and increasing pain levels.
A doctor can treat fibrous dysplasia using:
In some cases, shin pain can occur due to factors outside a person’s control, such as age or genetics.
However, certain factors may increase a person’s chances of experiencing shin pain.
Factors that may cause a person to be more likely to have shin pain from an injury include:
drinking more than 10 alcoholic drinks per week
excessive physical exercise
running more than 25 miles per week
a sudden increase in physical activity
low levels of vitamin D
having flat feet
It may not be possible to prevent some of the conditions that cause shin pain, such as genetic conditions and accidents. However, a person can help prevent shin pain from an injury in the following ways:
being careful not to over-exert themselves
wearing shock-absorbing shoes
wearing shin pads
increasing activity level gradually
When to see a doctor
A person with a minor injury, such as a bruise or scrape, will usually not require medical assistance.
However, large bruises that do not disappear after a few days may require draining from a doctor to speed up healing.
A person who has a more severe condition, such as a bone fracture, should see a doctor immediately.
In general, a person who has shin pain that is not shin splints will not require a doctor, and in most cases, the injury will heal with minimal treatment.
However, a person with a bone fracture should seek immediate medical attention.
Very rarely, shin pain can indicate a rare form of cancer. A person experiencing any worrying symptoms should consult their doctor