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What is a Tibia?

By Bill C.
Updated May 17, 2024
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Tibia is the scientific name for the shin bone, the larger of two bones located between the knee and ankle in humans and other vertebrates. The smaller bone is the fibula. In humans, the tibia is second in size only to the femur, or thigh bone, and is generally considered to be the strongest weight-bearing bone in the body. It typically experiences a force of almost five times a person's body weight during walking.

A cross-sectional view of the shin bone reveals a triangular inner shape. In humans, the bone forms joints with the large talus bone of the ankle and with the femur at the knee. The ridge running down the front of the leg is not covered by muscle, and the bone can easily be felt through the skin.

The tibia is slightly different in men and women. In males, it runs vertically straight from the knee and is parallel to its counterpart in the other leg. The bone in females slants down and slightly outward in each leg as the result of women typically having wider hips than men.

In animals other than humans, the tibia is the inner, larger bone of the hind limb, situated below the stifle. The stifle serves a function much like the human knee. As in humans, the animal shin bone forms a joint at the bottom with the talus. At the top, however, it forms a joint with both the femur and the fibula.

The tibia is more likely to break than any other long bone in the human body. Such fractures can range from small hairline cracks caused by stress like running to severe fractures resulting from high impact events that are often associated with contact sports and automobile accidents. Another common condition involving the tibia, often experienced by runners and other sports enthusiasts, is shin splints. This injury, caused by stress on the bone and the tissue surrounding it, is seldom considered serious and can generally be treated easily and quickly with rest, stretching and ice.

The tibia received its name centuries ago because of its resemblance to musical instruments sometimes called tibia that were used by the ancient Greeks and Romans. The Greek instrument was a type of flute, and the one used by the Romans was a similar wind instrument. Both made music by blowing through pipes that looked much like the shin bone.

WiseGEEK is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

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