Guess my shin-jury!
June 3, 2008 9:59 AM   Subscribe

What does a stress fracture feel like?

Is it a stress fracture or tendonitis?

This occurred after a week where I ran too fast too soon after recovering from a calf injury, on shoes that I now know to be a poor choice (I have since gotten new shoes but have not run on them yet).

There's an odd sort of sensation from time to time in the right front shin area- not pain, but not "normal" either. Certain motions invoke it- it felt at times like something brushed against or "fluttered" against my leg, but nothing had. It came from rotating/flexing my foot.

There was some swelling of the shin, the most alarming part of which was a singular raised "bump" that has since gone down. It was smallish, about the size and height of a grape sliced in half.

I have been trying to ice it several times a day and am on day 2 of not running.

If it's really a stress fracture, wouldn't it really hurt a lot more than it is? Will 2-3 days off be adequate rest if it's tendonitis?

I have read that it's notoriously tricky to even find stress fractures on an x-ray. I don't want to lose time from work, pay the $$ and suffer the semi-embarrassment that comes from showing up at the doctor with a hard-to-explain non-pain that may or may not be anything.

Please don't reply with "Go see a doctor." In a non-urgent situation (which from the lack of PAIN I think this is), I won't get an appointment for at least 3-5 days anyway. It won't happen in time to make any difference. I'm concerned about handling those next 3-5 days.
posted by I_Love_Bananas to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
In my experience, a muscle pull or tendinitis gets better in a shortish time frame time. A stress fracture does not.

I had one on my heel which I first thought was Achilles tendinitis because it only hurt when I was running. Even after a few weeks of rest, however, it would start to ache as soon as I started running again . A couple of rounds of this and I decided that something else was wrong. I went to the doctor and my stress fracture showed up pretty well on an x-ray.

The doctor yelled at me for waiting so long, btw. She said that I might have already made it worse than it was at first by repeatedly trying to run on it. In the end I had to take a whole running season off.

So go get an x-ray.
posted by overhauser at 10:10 AM on June 3, 2008

Put firm pressure on the weird area. If it hurts, it could well be a stress fracture. I had a stress fracture on my fibula last year, but I thought it was just a strain until my doctor very clearly disabused me of that notion with just that test. Meanwhile, the x-ray showed nothing just because it was fresh, although often healed stress fractures will show up on x-rays.

If it doesn't hurt, do all the usual sensible things (rest, ice, Advil) and see a doctor soon if it continues to feel odd and impede your activity.
posted by maudlin at 11:23 AM on June 3, 2008

I have a stress fracture right now, of the second metatarsal in my foot. It makes the ball of my foot feel tender on every step and when the doctor touches the spot where the break is, it's really painful and sensitive. Mine was caused by walking funny after foot surgery, so it sounds plausible to me that you could have gotten a stress fracture in a similar manner.

I have to wear a big Frankenstein shoe for at least two weeks and then if it doesn't heal, it'll be put in a cast. Needless to say, no running for me these days. I know you don't want to hear this, but until you get it checked out, you're just guessing at what it may be and you could easily reinjure it when you decide to start running again. If it were me, I'd stay off it as much as possible until I saw the doc. Good luck - you have my sympathy, this is no fun.
posted by Kangaroo at 11:33 AM on June 3, 2008

i had a stress fracture in my foot last summer and could only hop on the other foot. it hurt. A LOT. intense, constant pain.
posted by gursky at 4:51 PM on June 3, 2008

I'd think a stress fracture would involve significantly more, and more consistent, pain. I had what was assumed to be a stress fracture in my hip or the top of the femur (because of the pain, but of course x-rays didn't show anything) when I was in high school, running many miles a day on concrete and asphalt. I had near-constant pain any time I had weight on that leg, and frequently even if I didn't. It didn't have any surface reactivity or sensations, but I assume that's because the affected bone was buried deep in my thigh/hip. In any case, pain is the operative word. It is, after all, a fracture: a bone is broken.

The "fluttering" sensation you describe definitely sounds soft-tissue. A muscle spasm or a tendon going wonky (not necessarily in a harmful way, but possibly).

My best guess is that it's one of those weird mystery lamenesses that come up and go away every so often, with never an explanation or a solution. Hopefully it'll go away on its own! I would try taking a few more days off, and coming back slowly. If it's gotten worse with rest, then you might want to get it checked, but most likely that won't happen. Good luck.
posted by po at 4:09 AM on June 4, 2008

I had a stress fracture in my hip last year from running. It did not show up on a regular x-ray. It was diagnosed by MRI. It was also extremely painful. Running on it was not an option but it is most likely different from a stress fracture in the ankle.
posted by little miss s at 7:04 AM on June 4, 2008

Response by poster: If anyone is still reading this thread...

I got x-rayed and no stress fracture. However, a week later and no improvement led me to Google my symptoms. This is exactly what I've been experiencing.

I'm terrified. Is this reversible?
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 8:00 PM on June 6, 2008

Sorry you're still hurting, but good for you to get an X-ray.

If it's something connective tissue-ish, it could take a couple of weeks before it gets back to normal, as connective tissue tends to be poorly oxygenated (vascularized) and hence slow to heal. I'd wait until it feels better - and then a few more days - before even trying a light run on it. You have to give it time.

Your symptoms kind of fit those of compartment syndrome, but beware of google-induced nosophobia. I'd go to a sports medicine doctor if a couple of weeks of rest doesn't do it.
posted by overhauser at 2:07 PM on June 7, 2008

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