Running Injury? Nip that Niggle in the Bud
We’ve all been there. You go for a run, everything feels fine—and then you wake up with a weird ache somewhere in your body. It may be under your knee cap or in your hamstring or in the arch of your foot. And, if you’re like me, you start the panic. Crap. Is this going to be a running injury? Where did this pain come from? Is it going to sideline my goals? You start googling and every post seems to point to “yes”—yes, it will most definitely force you to take time off running for at least six weeks. How will you survive?!
These little pains, or what many runners call “niggles”, is your body telling you that you need to pay more attention to how you are caring for yourself. (Take note, niggles are different than excruciating pain that can signify a big-time running injury). They aren’t the death knell for your training. All too often I let niggles freak me out or turn into something bigger—like a torn hamstring that still haunts me months later.
Here is a method I learned from my elite runner friend to nip niggles in the bud. It’s worked for me countless times and many of my Mother Runner friends on potential running injuries. Hopefully, it will work for you, too. And for fun, I’ve put it to the tune of a soundtrack—because why not?
Cue Vanilla Ice, and ice, ice baby.
I know us mamas don’t have much time to sit around for 15 minutes. So, buy an ace bandage, strap on that ice pack and go about your business. Just don’t forget you have the ice pack on. I did that earlier this year and frostbit my heel. It wasn’t pretty. Set a timer. And keep it up—multiple times a day. Bonus points if you apply a heating pad afterward.
Like Ludacris says, ROLL out.
This niggle is likely your body’s way of telling you that you need to tend to it better. No more running and then immediately heading back into Mom mode. Take 2 minutes (or more!) to stretch and use a foam roller on main body parts including your legs and seat. (Do this before you head into the house so your kids don’t know you’re home yet). Pay extra attention to the trouble spot which may be a little deceiving. By this I mean, knee pain may mean that your quads and IT bands are too tight. Heel pain could mean your calves need some TLC. Be sure to roll out and stretch areas near where your niggle is. For arch and ball of foot pain, use a golf ball (or maybe a toy), step on it, and roll it around the foot for some relief.
Break the ice ala Britney Spears.
Take two days off from running. Do something else if you can—an exercise class or the elliptical if it doesn’t hurt. Or even better yet, yoga! If you don’t want to miss a workout, you can plan to take this time on near planned off days—just try to take it easy leading up to this break. An alternative is to try to run through the pain but back off on intensity to see if the niggle goes away. If it doesn’t, then you know for sure it’s time to rest.
Listen to The Lumineers and “slow it down.”
After your mini-break, start back super slow. Like minutes slower than your usual average pace. Your run back is a test run to see if you are feeling better. If you are, awesome! But still, tread lightly for the next couple days.
If you aren’t feeling better, then you may need to take a few more days off and keep up the TLC. Or, you may need to see a doctor or physical therapist for treatment like needling, STEM, ultrasound, or massage. Whenever you are in doubt, rest is almost always better than running. Listen to your body. Don’t pull a Taylor Swift and try to “shake it off.” If your niggle is, in fact, an injury, you can use your time off from running to focus on the strength that will make you a stronger, better runner. Running will always be there for you.