I did a musical number with lots of jumps on a tour stop without a sprung floor. Now my leg really hurts. An orthopedist told me I have shin splints but not a stress fracture. Is the recovery time different?
—Bob, Riverdale, NY
Yes. A shin splint is a soft-tissue injury, whereas a stress fracture is a partial break in the bone. While both are due to overuse, especially on hard floors, a stress fracture will take two to three months to recover. In contrast, a strain where the muscle attaches to the bone (aka a shin splint) will take four to six weeks to heal.
These injuries require different treatment. For shin splints, you should avoid movements that hurt, like jumping, and get physical therapy to decrease the healing time. A stress fracture may call for a boot, crutches and a bone stimulator first. Be aware that ice and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like Advil should only be used for the first week after an injury, or following a strenuous physical therapy session. Why? Because inflammation is an important part of the recovery process. Unless there's another underlying issue, an inflamed bone or tissue is a positive sign that the body is beginning to heal.
Send your questions to Dr. Linda Hamilton at firstname.lastname@example.org.