People may typically associate shin pain with shin splints. However, other issues can also cause shin pain, including a minor injury, a fracture, a bone bruise, or a problem with bone growth, such as a tumor.
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 as dull and throbbing.
Shin splints are a common cause of shin pain. However, other factors, such as an injury, bone bruise, or stress fracture, can also cause pain in the shin.
This article will cover a range of reasons why a person may have shin pain, including symptoms, treatments, and how to prevent each cause.
A note about sex and gender
Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.
A person who has an injury to their shinbone from a fall or blow may experience some pain or bruising.
Symptoms of a minor injury can include:
- a bump
- 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
A bone bruise on the shin can result from direct trauma, such as a blow or impact to the leg during a fall or when playing sports. They can take
A bone bruise occurs when a traumatic injury to a bone causes microfractures. Unlike with a broken bone, an imaging scan on a bone bruise will not show a clear fracture line or change in bone shape.
The trauma also damages blood vessels and blood and other fluids build up in tissues. This causes discoloration to the skin around the damaged area. However, the injury is typically deeper than the familiar bruises on the skin.
Although a person can bruise any bone, bones nearer the skin, such as the shin, may be more at risk of this injury.
It is not always possible to detect whether a bruise is a superficial skin injury or on the bone. Symptoms of a bone bruise on the shin may 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:
- applying ice
- using over-the-counter (OTC) pain medication
- raising the leg to reduce swelling
- wearing a brace to limit movement, if required
For a hematoma or more severe bruising, a doctor may need to drain the bruise to remove excess fluid.
Stress fractures occur when muscles become tired through overuse, and they cannot absorb any extra stress.
When this happens, the muscle transfers the stress to the bone. This causes tiny cracks, or stress fractures, to form.
Statistics suggest that females, athletes, and military recruits are at
Carrying a heavy load while running can increase the risk, as can having lower bone density. These factors can lead to microcracks in the bone, which need time to heal.
Stress fractures can result from:
- a sudden increase in physical activity
- wearing improper footwear, such as worn or inflexible shoes
- running more than 25 miles per week
- repetitive, high intensity training
Symptoms of a stress fracture in the shinbone include:
- shin pain when touching or putting weight on the leg
- prolonged pain
- 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:
- reducing activity
- taking anti-inflammatory medication, such as aspirin and ibuprofen (Advil)
- using a compression bandage
- using crutches
The best treatment for a stress fracture is rest. A person may need to rest for
According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS), the shinbone is the long bone that people fracture most often.
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 someone has broken their shinbone, they will usually confirm it with an X-ray.
Treatment will depend on the type of fracture a person has. For less serious fractures, treatment may involve wearing:
- a splint until the swelling reduces
- a cast to immobilize the leg
- a brace to protect and support the leg until it heals
An open fracture or one that does not heal with nonsurgical methods may require surgery.
According to the AAOS, adamantinoma and osteofibrous dysplasia (OFD) are rare bone tumors that often grow 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 and can spread to other parts of the bone.
According to the
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 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.
Although Paget’s disease can affect any bone in the body, it mainly appears in the spine, pelvis, femur, and shinbone.
- bone pain
- dull pain
- bending of bones
- bone fractures
- loss of sensation or movement
- loss of appetite
- abdominal pain
If someone does not experience any symptoms from Paget’s disease, a doctor
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
- bone fracture
- curving of leg bones
- issues with hormones
Signs of fibrous dysplasia becoming cancerous include rapid swelling of the region and increasing pain levels.
A doctor can treat fibrous dysplasia using:
- using braces
In some cases, shin pain can occur due to factors outside a person’s control, such as age or genetics. Risk factors vary depending on the cause of shin pain.
Factors that may increase the risk of developing shin pain include:
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
In many cases, people with shin pain will not need to see a doctor. However, someone should seek immediate medical help if they experience the following symptoms, which could indicate a fracture:
- severe pain
- a change in shape
- a snapping sound
- inability to put weight on the leg
If there is unusual growth or a lump, people should see a doctor, who may conduct tests to see if there is a benign or malignant tumor.
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.
In general, someone with 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.