"Once I had a full blown case of IT band, it took over a year of trying every form of therapy, massage, stretching, voodoo, psychological evaluation and finally surgery to overcome this persistent little gift from Satan himself."
IT Band! I have a personal vendetta against all things IT Band! This nasty little injury pretty much sidelined me for over a year during the early stages of my triathlon career. I’ll never forget exactly where I was when I first experienced that soon to be familiar feeling of a hammer knocking the tar out of the side of my knee. At first it was just a twinge….a weird, sharp ache that hit smack dab on the side of my right knee. We’d recently moved from a mountain side home where I did all my running on mountain trails, to a home down in the city where I ended up doing most of my runs on asphalt roads with a nice slant. Of course, I kept running even after the initial arrival of my new worst enemy, because…well, who really let’s a little nagging hammer knock on the side of their knee keep them from doing what they love?! Oh yeah…sane people do. But, you must remember…most runners are NOT sane, hence the need to run!
Once I had a full blown case of IT band, it took over a year of trying every form of therapy, massage, stretching, voodoo, psychological evaluation and finally surgery to overcome this persistent little gift from Satan himself.
I had never experienced IT band before and had no idea what I was in for. If I had realized what I was dealing with, I believe I would have been able to take the immediate and necessary steps to avoid the 14 months of torture I was in for. Because I had no idea what I was dealing with, I thought I could “Run through it.” You can’t. You’ll just make it worse (really!) So, in the hope that I can help just one person out there avoid what I went through….here are the basics of Battling IT band.
Your IT Band (officially known as your “Iliotibial band”) is a long sheath of tissue that basically begins at your hip/glute and runs down the side of your leg and attaches to the knee. The pain you feel with IT Band is a result of the IT band tightening and snapping across the side of your knee joint creating inflammation and much hammer hitting unhappiness!
To keep this little monster in check and the rest of you happy….do the following:
- If at all possible, do the bulk of your running on dirt trails and soft surfaces. Avoid cement/sidewalks, etc. and if you have to run on asphalt, try to stay off the camber slant as that increases strain on the IT band.
- Be sure to wear shoes that work for you. Don’t wear old, worn out, beat up shoes and expect to get away with it for long.
- Watch your running technique. One of the biggest causes for IT band issues is overstriding. You need to keep your legs landing UNDER your center of balance as you run…not striding way out in front of you. Every time your foot lands way out in front of you is just that much more impact and pressure on your IT band. Keep a high stride rate (85-95 strides per minute is a good goal), proud posture (chest open, neutral spine and head) slight lean forward, and midfoot landing. Stay solid biomechanically and your IT band just might decide to be your friend.
- Keep your body structurally sound. That means: Strong glutes and hips (both internal and external), and a solid, stable core. A great exercise for core and hip stabilizers is a side plank. Lay on your side with your feet stacked on top of eachother and elbow under your shoulder. Lift your hips as high off the ground as you can and hold for 30-60 seconds. Do both sides. Once you are strong enough, add leg lifts to the side plank. Works core, hip stabilizers and spinal column.
- Stretch! You should be doing this anyways…right?! So, just be sure to add several good hip flexor, glute stretches to keep those joints and the connective tissue attached to them mobile and healthy. You would be wise to also add in work on a roller. This is called Myofascial Release and it is magic! You can buy a foam roller from your local running store or online. It is one of the best investments you can make in your soft tissue’s athletic future!
- Be patient as you are running and don’t increase your mileage too fast! Most people that get hit with IT Band Syndrome have increased their mileage too quickly and didn’t give their body’s enough time to adapt and assimilate to the movement. Take it slow with the mileage increase, and chances are lower that you will be hit with this injury.
- Emotionally, IT Band Syndrome can really be a disaster because runner’s love their endorphins and when we don’t get our hit…the world is just not as lovely a place. I’ll tell you what saved me. Cross Training! Because I am a triathlete, I just spent WAY more time on my swimming and cycling training. In a way, it was a blessing because my swim and bike had been slightly weaker disciplines before this injury and it gave me a chance to improve my strength with these disciplines. Silver lining to the dark cloud, baby! So, if you are struggling with IT Band Syndrome…don’t get all down and dreary, take the opportunity to improve other skills while you are repairing your injury and you’ll come back even better!
DON’T GIVE UP! Be patient with this injury because it really can be persistent. But, you CAN overcome it. Take all the above steps…PLUS the following: STOP running immediately when you feel that twinge. Ice immediately. Take a couple days off from running after feeling that twinge (just swim, lift, do yoga, etc.) Stretch, massage, roll it out. Strengthen your stabilizers. Come back slow and easy.
You are not alone with this injury and you can take solace in knowing that lots of runners have not just struggled with this injury but have overcome it come it and come back stronger, faster, better….and even MORE grateful for the joy a good run can give us!
Good Luck and Happy Training!
Coach Keena is a regular contributor here at TriEdge and has 15 years experience coaching and training hundreds of individuals. She s a USA Triathlon Certified Coach and holds additional certifications from the National association of Sports Medicine (NASM) and the American Council of Exercise (ACE) as a certified personal trainer. If you would like to contact Coach Keena go to: www.coachkeena.com