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Little Niggles and How to Deal With Them

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I think niggle is a great word, it sounds nice, I imagine it as a small furry creature, but it’s not so nice a thing to actually deal with.

When you start exercising, or up the effort or try something new, you’re likely to suffer from tons of tiny niggles. Some of them will turn out to be nothing, and some might be debilitating for a bit, before fading away, never to return.

When I started running I had pain in my shins, the arches of my feet, occasionally my knees and in my hip flexors. My hip flexors got so bad I had to take a break, strap it up and rest, but the eventually they all faded away, despite my fears that I was developing a major injury that was going to put me out of action forever.

With Roller Derby the niggles I’m currently experiencing as I work up my skills include shin pain, cramps and numb toes when I first start skating and pains in my right thigh when I do knee taps during warm up, which are getting progressively worse. I’ve also started to get an incredibly shaky left leg while endurance skating.

Those niggles are infuriating, but how do you differentiate which ones are injuries in the making, and which ones are just because your body hasn’t quite caught up with what you’re asking it to do? And what should you do to treat them?

I’ve spent hours obsessing over tiny pains, wondering what the cause is and reading up on things to the point where I work myself up into a panic. I’ve also ignored signals my body was sending me and ended up out of any training for weeks at a time.

So, this is my advice. I’m not a physiotherapist or health professional, so just remember that, but this is simply advice based on my experience.

  • Don’t panic

One day I will learn to take this advice myself. I am the worst person for immediately assuming all niggles are a life threatening potential injury waiting to happen, but I’m also way too stubborn to actually stop, so instead I keep skating and keep running, bore the pants off anyone who’ll listen by telling them which bits of me hurt today and then scare myself to death reading about potential diagnosis on the Internet. Then suddenly 3 weeks later I’m all “shin splints? What shin splints?”.

If you’ve been an athlete all your life then you’re probably used to a bit of pain, if you waited until you were in your 30s to suddenly take up regular exercise it’s going to hurt more than laying on the sofa watching Poirot with a cup of tea. Get used to it and don’t panic over every small ache.

  • Listen to your body

People say this a lot, but what does it actually mean? It can be incredibly hard to separate out what your body is telling you from what your over cautious or over keen mind is saying. I think it means trying to put aside your fear of injury and how much you want to keep skating/running/swimming/mountain climbing and really assess the severity and consistency of a pain. Does it keep hurting after you stop exercising? Does it hurt even when you haven’t worked out for days? Is it affecting your normal range of movement, for instance making you limp? Did it come on suddenly and make you wince or catch your breath? All of these are probably signs you should take whatever it is a little more seriously.

For myself, for instance, I’ve recently decided that I won’t do right knee falls at Roller Derby till I’m properly warmed up and stretched later in the session. I just can’t do them as a warm up, I get a sudden pain that leaves me rubbing my leg and in pain for the rest of practice, despite trying stretching before hand. Eventually, if I work on improving the flexibility in my thighs I might be able to do them again, but for now my body is telling me I am running the risk of injury by keep pushing myself, and we don’t want that again.

  • Do the Research

But not too much or you’ll work yourself up into a panic. If you have a niggle then researching what it could be, and potential self treatments, could save you a world of pain later on. There are all sorts of physiotherapy sites out there that can help you with a bit of self diagnosis and guide you towards whether you need to see a professional or not. When I got pains in the arches of my feet when running I bought practice golf balls and rolled them under my feet. They helped massively and potentially saved me developing a far worse injury by pushing on.

  • Work on your Strength

Sometimes those niggles are because your body just isn’t strong enough yet. Some of the Derby niggles I’m currently getting I suspect are because my technique has improved to the point where my body is no longer strong enough in the right places to handle it. My crossovers are better and stronger and my Derby stance is lower than it was when I started back in June, but my legs haven’t caught up with the improvement yet. In time it’ll stop hurting, and then I’ll get lower and faster and it will probably start again. In the meantime extra training on your problem areas can help work out those kinks.

  • Take a Break

If it hurts before you even start working out it’s probably not going to get better when you start hurling yourself around. 3 days off now could save you 3 weeks off in future.

  • Ask for help

If you’ve had that niggle for a while and it won’t go away, go and see a professional. Constant internet searches and Deep Heat aren’t going to help now if they haven’t for the last month. See your doctor, or probably better, book an appointment with a Sports Physio. Doctors first port of call is all too often to tell you to stop doing something, especially if it’s something “stupid” like Roller Derby or running a Marathon. If you can find someone who specialises in treating athletes they might be more realistic about what you can do to recover.

Do you have any more advice for dealing with those niggles?

4 Responses
  • Zoe (www.star-psyche.co.uk)
    January 22, 2014

    Great post! I think I’ve been lucky so far as I’ve not really had much in the way of niggles, but I’ve started out slow and incorporated strength training early on to make sure my muscles are up to the work (my knees have definitely thanked me for it!).
    It’s always worth listening to your body and making sure to rest if it definitely says ‘no go’.

  • Fi Phillips
    January 22, 2014

    Great article. When I started exercising on a regular basis in June, I was very creaky (3 and a half stones overweight and not exercising at all). I didn’t listen to my body, pushed myself too hard and ended up with a torn calf muscle. Now, I do listen to my body and take note of strains and unusual pains. Building up strength is incredibly important, as you say, but for me it was flexibility that I needed to work on. Thanks for sharing.

  • emma
    January 22, 2014

    Great tips, I love the idea of looking at them as niggles instead of injuries, as long as you’re careful, it’s a bit more of a positive way to look at things in life!

  • Mitchell Okotie
    March 27, 2014

    A good post. It always good to overcome those obstacles that people sometimes have at times. That is good advice..