Everyone gets niggles, right? A pain in the knee, or maybe a hip, ankle or shin? Sometimes fleeting, sometimes hanging around for a little longer?
Leg pain, especially sports-related, is pretty common. But is it just a niggle? Or something that might go on to be a real problem if left? The challenge is to know when to seek professional advice.
First, consider the context…
Has the niggle come on after any trauma? A trip, stumble, fall, a bad landing or contact with another player?
Has it come on slowly over time. If so, what is the pattern? Does it get worse the more you do? Or eases with activity?
Has there been a change in your training? Increased mileage? Gradient? Frequency?
These factors all give clues to the source of the niggle. A trauma might result in a muscle tear, sprain or even cartilage injury.
Managing leg pain
Generally speaking rest, ice, compression and elevation (RICE) should be the first response to pain or injury. Anti-inflammatory medication may be indicated if RICE isn’t enough to settle or improve the pain.
If, after a few days off training and the above management, pain has improved, a return to training, at a lesser load, could be trialed.
However, if there has been no improvement or pain is severe, worsening or uncontrollable, a trip to the doctor or physio is worthwhile. In some cases, such as stress fractures or cartilage damage, early intervention may minimise recovery time.
Reducing the risks
There’s plenty you can do to help reduce the risk of injuries and even those annoying niggles.
- Choose correct footwear that provides good support and is suited both to your gait and the activity.
- Consider cross training, rather than just running, to help lessen the load on the body’s structures.
- Make sure your training allows for gradual increases in distance, frequency and load, to avoid doing too much too soon.
- Also make sure stretching and strengthening are part of your regular routine.
- Address any biomechanical/muscle imbalance issues. Muscle imbalance anywhere in the trunk/lower limb can increase the load on structures and consequently, injury risk. Likewise with altered foot position and gait pattern.
- Stay well hydrated to decrease the incidence of muscle cramps and injury.