A stress fracture is an overuse injury that can occur in any weight-bearing bone.
Stress fractures usually occur when the muscle and soft tissue structures that absorb shock tire, resulting in additional stress to the weight-bearing bones.
Half of all stress fractures occur in the lower leg and often result from increasing activity levels too quickly or using improper or worn out shoes.
Symptoms include pain in or around a weight-bearing bone that increases with activity and usually subsides with rest.
Symptoms may start gradually, but can increase quickly with increased activity. Treatment usually involves rest or a change to pain-free activities and ice to control symptoms.
Usually found in the front compartment of the lower leg, compartment syndrome is caused by repeated muscular activity or trauma.
It causes a significant increase of fluids, inflammation or bleeding into an enclosed soft tissue compartment, resulting in increased pressure on the nerves and blood supply that run through that compartment.
These soft tissue compartments are completely enclosed by tissue (fascia) and cannot reduce the increased pressure caused by fluid increase.
Symptoms usually include:
- Pain around the affected compartment
- Numbness, tingling or burning sensations below the affected area
- Possible decreased blood flow below the affected area
Symptoms often increase with activity and may initially lessen with rest. Initial treatment of mild cases usually includes rest, ice to control symptoms, and a gradual return to activity.
More severe cases may require surgery to relieve the compartment pressure and reduce risk of further injury to the lower leg and foot.
Shin splints are marked by pain in the lower leg that increases with activity.
Generally caused by a sudden increase in activity, shin splints also are associated with tightness in the calf, weakness in the muscles that move the foot upward, improper footwear or activity on an uneven surface.
Symptoms are generally felt in the lower half of the front and outside aspects of the lower leg.
Treatment usually includes:
- Stretching activities for the calf and lower leg
- Strengthening exercises for muscles supporting the foot and ankle
- Ice to control symptoms
- Taping or bracing to minimize stress on the affected areas during activity
If left untreated, shin splints usually will develop into more significant injuries such as stress fractures or anterior compartment syndrome.