I just started running regularly again after a few weeks of limited running due to a cranky iliotibial (IT) band. The IT band is a rather large ligament that starts at the iliac crest and runs down the outside of your thigh, attaching to the shin bone (near your knee).
What is Iliotibial band syndrome (ITBS) and how do you know if you have it?
ITBS is one of the most common running injuries. It occurs due to overuse (nope not guilty of that one at all! ;-)!) IT band syndrome often manifests itself in knee band, so you may falsely believe you have a knee issue. Thankfully there’s an easy way to determine whether you are dealing with an IT band issue or a knee issue.
Bend your knee at a 45 degree angle (see picture below):
You will feel pain on the outside of the knee if it’s your IT band. If you are still not sure, you can visit your doctor for an MRI, which may show thickening of the ligament and inflammation.
What Causes Iliotibial Band Syndrome?
One of the biggest causes of iliotibial syndrome is overuse, and it doesn’t discriminate between beginning (too much too soon) and advanced runners. Other reasons you may develop IT band syndrome include any of the following: repeated running on cambered (banked) roads, running in shoes that need to be replaced, or running in the same direction all the time (i.e. track running). IT band syndrome seems to affect women more than men (women are 2x more likely to develop it).
How do you treat Iliotibial Band Syndrome?
The first thing I’m going to say (which you probably won’t listen to, since you’re a runner!) is to STOP for a while. I just took a few weeks off with my IT band issues, because I didn’t want it to get any worse. Now that I’m a bit older (and hopefully wiser!), I listen to my body. If something feels painful, I know stop right away. It’s just not worth pushing through the pain, when it could cause the injury to get that much worse.
If you want to avoid complete and total rest, do some cross training. Great cross training activities that won’t aggravate your IT band include cycling and swimming– when I’m injured, I love pool running (especially in place of a long run). Whatever you do, make sure it’s not causing you to feel any pain in your IT band.
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Foam rolling or using the stick can also help you release tension in your IT band. Try and stretch your iliotibial band after doing any release exercises. If you don’t have a foam roller, a tennis ball will work just fine. Stand against the wall or lay down on the ground with the tennis ball under the inflamed area. Use your body weight to apply pressure and massage the area.
Do the best you can to help your body recover from the injury– practice good nutrition, get enough sleep, and avoid unnecessary stress (easier said then done, I know!). If the pain does not go away, make sure you see your doctor!