There is much confusion over the difference between shin splints and stress fractures in the running community. The term shin splints is a name often given to any pain at the front of the shin; a similar pain to that of stress fractures. However the most common cause is inflammation of the periostium of the tibia (sheath surrounding the bone) due to the forces put on it from joining muscles. Whereas stress fractures are in the bone itself from a build up of micro damage.
Shin splints is characterized by pain over the inside lower half of the shin at the start of exercise. It often eases as the session continues. The pain often returns after activity, and may be at its worse the next morning . There is also often a lot of localized swelling.
Treatment is as simple as reducing pain and swelling, and then identifying the precursors of the injury. Rest is the key, with the use of ice to reduce pain and swelling. After the acute phase (swelling and pain subsided) light stretching and heat on the lower leg promotes blood flow and recovery. Addressing the issues that caused the injury is the next step.
Shin splints are caused by mainly biomechanical faults, and errors in training. The most common biomechanical problems are over pronation and over supination of the feet, as well as inadequate footwear. These problems can easily be addressed by orthodics and buying quality running shoes. Other causes include overtraining, running on hard surfaces and poor flexibility of the ankle. These problems can be addressed by monitoring training hours, running on gentle surfaces like grass and incorporating ankle stretches.
It is recommended that the athlete should be eased back into training and should be stopped if any pain reoccurs.