When you train regularly at a high intensity, little niggles and sore muscles appear frequently and are all part of the hard work that comes with progress. Most of the time, we can work through that pain and adjust our training until it settles down. However, some are unlucky enough to experience an injury while training, which not only affects the mind but hinders the ability to train at the usual intensity and frequency. It is important to know the difference between these little niggles and more serious injuries, furthermore, how to manage and treat them to bring you back to your best as quickly as possible.
What is the difference between a niggle and an injury?
There is no black and white way to diagnose whether that little ache or pain is a niggle or an injury. However, there are a few tell-tale signs to look out for that can notify you if there is potential for that niggle to develop into something more sinister. A niggle may begin as a chronic, dull ongoing pain or tightness in a specific area. The pain can fluctuate and may persist for a period of time.
These sorts of aches and pains may resolve during the workout or shortly after, and are usually not something to raise the alarm bells. However, it is best to keep an eye on them and make minor adjustments during training, such as lifting lighter or changing from road to grass when running. Making a note of what activity you were doing when the niggle first emerged is important as they tend to resurge in a cycle; the cycle length can vary in time depending on the training load you are currently under.
Now comes the part where you have to be honest with yourself and how your body is feeling. If the pain you are experiencing is extreme, acute and persistent, then it is more than likely you are injured. Injuries usually occur suddenly with an abnormal/uncomfortable movement causing intense pain/discomfort; however, they can also arise from a niggle if they are not looked after properly, inadequate warm-up prior to training, or an awkward/uncomfortable movement that puts the already fragile body in a vulnerable position. The muscle or joint often stiffens and becomes quite painful, swelling will arise almost immediately, and movement is affected. Pain is sharp and intense and throbbing often accompanies the pain in the area.
How do I manage a niggle or an injury?
A niggle can usually be self-managed, through decreasing and adjusting training load and intensity, regular and thorough warm-ups and cooldowns (featuring static and dynamic stretching, and the use of foam rollers and spiked massage spheres. All these methods are great for loosening the tension in muscles, in addition to investing in good quality deep tissue massages at regular intervals. If pain continues to get worse throughout the activity, the first step is to avoid that activity until you can do it pain-free. If possible, see a physiotherapist as soon as you can. They can often help evaluate the cause of the pain and work to alleviate it before it gets worse.
If you think you have injured yourself, training should cease immediately. The first 48 hours after an acute injury are vital, as this can determine the severity of the damage to the area and the amount of time it will take for the injury to recover. It is recommended that you avoid HARM (heat, alcohol, running, massage) in the initial 48 hours, and employ the RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) technique to prevent any further injury.