Headlines today in The Guardian sport section report that Daniel Sturridge is suffering from a further strain, this time in his calf. I do not know if this is the same leg as the thigh strain from which he has recently recovered, but if so, I would not be surprised. In addition, we learn that Raheem Stirling told Roy Hodgson that his legs were sore. Anyone who plays sports will know that feeling.
A second injury or pain on the same side — why?
When we injure a muscle or ligament, inflammatory chemicals are released locally. Danger-sensing nerves (nociceptors) are activated by these chemicals when their threshold of firing is lowered. Danger signals are sent to the spinal cord, where modulation takes place with signals being sent down from the brain — these are in response to thoughts, emotions, context, perceived danger etc. The danger signals are then sent up to the brain via a second neuron, where an analysis of what is happening takes place. On concluding that there is danger, pain emerges from the body in the place where it is thought the problem lies. The body uses cortical (brain) maps to allocate the pain in the body. Put simply, the biology of pain does not reside in the injured tissues but instead involves the protective functioning of many body systems working together.
Once protection kicks in, pain draws our attention to the area, our movement changes as does our thinking amongst other things. This does not involve only the injured body region, but widespread responses of body systems that protect us from actual and potential threat. The original injury goes through a healing process — we have incredibly potent healing abilities — yet the sensitivity and protection can persist. If, for example, the thigh is strained, it is all the ‘wiring’ that involves the leg that will be on alert. Without full resolution, and this includes confidence in the body, the systems are primed and hence during this period it is easier to ‘pick up’ another injury. Sometimes there is an actual injury and damage, but often there is nothing discernible yet it hurts in the same way. Differentiating an actual injury from the sensation of an injury is important. Players and coaches understanding these mechanisms (of pain) is vital in my view, so that these problems can be tackled efficiently. It would be straight-forward to deliver a mandatory, FA backed education package — contact me for details of an education programme.
In summary, why do pains appear on the same side? Because the initial sensitivity has not fully resolved in the case when no actual injury can be found. If there is a strain or sprain detected, there is a good chance that motor control, body sense and awareness and or confidence are not complete. Of course, there is always the possibility of just plain old bad luck, however I would suggest that it is more likely that the body remains in a degree of protection mode.
Aching legs and recovery
Briefly, the body needs time to recover from the demands of exercise. This can be all out rest for a short period but also active rest that would be a lower intensity of movement and activity; a skills based session for example. There are ways of enhancing recovery that include focused movements and body awareness exercises as well as the practice of mindfulness. We have a great ability to adapt, and in fact our body systems are continually changing and adapting to our lifestyles. This is one of the reasons for chronic health problems in a society that is ‘wired’ and ‘immediate’. Put simply, our bodies are not designed in this way.
Educating players about pain, injury, recovery and health empowers them to make good decisions. With coaches and managers also understanding these principles, it creates a positive culture with clear communication about injury and pain. A player should always feel that he can talk openly about how he is feeling, physically and mentally — although I would argue that these are one and the same because we are whole person: genes, character, personality, experience, knowledge, beliefs, mind, body etc., with no single feature standing above the others.
Contact me for information about pain seminars and training at your club — 07518 445493