A few weeks ago AFL fans would recall that there was significant discussion about the injury status of Carlton player Patrick Cripps. He was playing poorly, looked slower than normal and was visibly in discomfort following high impact physical contests. Reports circled of back and knee injuries that he was playing with, however Carlton officials reported that they were only niggles, and it would not require time away from the game, nor was there risk of making these injuries worse. 

Niggling injuries that allow you to train or play but don’t go away quickly are a common complaint for athletes, with some studies suggesting up to a quarter of field sport athletes will report some minor complaint each week. Niggles or more technically termed non time loss injuries are physical ailments that lead to mild or moderate reductions in training or competition performance, intensity, volume or perceived severity. They may not put you out of the game, but they will certainly affect your performance to some level.  The more important question is whether they may lead to time loss injury?

Australian based researchers Matthew Whalan, Ric Lovell and John A Sampson recently conducted a study that suggests niggles may matter more than we previously believed. Their study highlights that non time loss injuries (niggles) may be used to predict future injuries (time loss).  What made them say that? From their work there was evidence to suggest that time loss injuries were between 3 to 6 times more likely if they were preceded by a non time loss injury (niggle) in the 7 days prior.

These researchers highlight that injury development is complex and multi-factorial. So just because you have a niggle does not suggest you will have a time loss injury, however its clear that it makes it more likely, at least from this initial study. 

So what does this mean? 

Its clear that niggles can be seen as warning signs and not ignored. They should be assessed, and consequent deficiencies should be addressed in the capacities that require improvement. This process may not stop you from getting injured but addressing warning signs early gives you a much better chance of staying on the park. 

To access the abstract to the article head to https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/24733938.2019.1705996