If you have been on a run around Ballarat recently chances are you have experienced a bit of discomfort during or after the session, particularly if you have pushed things a bit. This can be normal, however it is worth considering whether that soreness is caused by muscle fatigue or a running niggle. Knowing the difference between the two is important, and will help you determine whether the soreness you experience is anything to be concerned about.
Muscle fatigue is the ‘normal’ exercise related soreness that occurs after a muscle is pushed to its limits in terms of strength and endurance. The most common form of muscle soreness is DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness), it occurs several hours after you finish exercising and should resolve within 3 days. After running sessions DOMS typically presents itself in the major leg muscle groups- quads, glutes, hamstrings and calves. This soreness lets your body know that you have worked your muscles hard and that you need to take it easy for a few days while your muscles recover.
DOMS symptoms should be completely gone within 3 days, often sooner, and if your body is functioning efficiently you will be able to gradually build your running load (distance, time, intensity) as you improve the strength and endurance of your muscles. As you get stronger you should experience these symptoms of post exercise muscle fatigue as your body acclimatises to the workload.
If the symptoms you experience don’t match this description you are probably dealing with more than just normal muscle fatigue, it is likely that you have a running niggle.
The following table helps clarify the difference between the two:
|MUSCLE FATIGUE||RUNNING NIGGLE|
|Onset several hours after exercise||Onset anytime (can be during or directly after exercising)|
|Fairly even distribution throughout quads, hamstrings, calves and glutes||Discomfort in a specific location (e.g. left outer knee, right hip, both calves)|
|Feels like a dull ache in your muscles||Variable symptoms i.e. sharp, burning, tight, tingling or anything in between. May change depending on what you are doing.|
|Able to get through most day to day activities with a bit of soreness||Unable to do some tasks/ movements because it hurts too much|
|Resolves within 3 days||Lasts longer than 3 days. May have existed for a while without settling at all.|
|Able to run same distance/ intensity on next session.||Progress with running distance/ intensity limited by aches and pains.|
So what is a running niggle? And what can you do to get on top of it?
‘Niggle’ is a broad term regarding recurrent aches and pains that do not resolve with rest, they are caused by impaired biomechanics. Biomechanics is a measure of how efficiently your body moves. Your biomechanics are directly influenced by your muscle strength, activation, flexibility and running technique. As such, these ‘niggles’ are fundamentally caused by specific muscle weaknesses, muscle activation issues, reduced flexibility of a particular muscle or sub-optimal movement patterns- often a combination of these factors. If a muscle group doesn’t have enough strength and/ or flexibility it can affect the way you move and place stress on other areas of the body causing pain. Often these niggles won’t stop you running completely, however they can make it difficult to increase your running load and take the enjoyment out of going for a run.
Most niggles require a combination of manual therapy and exercise rehabilitation to fully resolve. Manual therapy and taping are useful for keeping you active but until you put in the work to address your body’s faults and move more efficiently you will just be managing symptoms without getting to the root cause of the problem. This is where the exercise rehabilitation component comes in, it is by far the most important part of the process.
Clinical Pilates is extremely effective for correcting biomechanical faults. It involves a thorough assessment of the strength and flexibility of your major muscle groups as well as reviewing your movement patterns. This information is used to develop a tailored Clinical Pilates program that is specific to your needs.
A lot of people forget that running is a skill that can be improved, just like a golf swing. Getting started with some Pilates is a great way to correct your body’s imbalances and improve the way you move. Running efficiently doesn’t just minimise aches and pains, it is also a useful tool for boosting performance and helping you get the most out of your training and effort. We have recently developed a Pilates class just for runners that will help reduce your change of developing a niggle as well as helping optimise your performance.
If you have a niggle that slows you down book an appointment with one of our qualified Physiotherapists to develop a tailored health plan to find the solution.
Joshua Dunne is a Physiotherapist and Pilates Instructor at Lake Health Group here in Ballarat.