One of the most common injuries for runners is the dreaded Illiotibial (IT) Band Syndrome. Whether you’re a newbie runner or a seasoned vet, IT Band Syndrome can strike at any time. The injury is considered an overuse injury, but there are many factors that play into it and simply taking time off may not be the solution. If you want to “Beat the Band,” consider applying these strategies.
- Understand the problem: The IT Band is a thick piece of connective tissue that runs along the outside of the leg from the hip and glutes to its insertion point just above the knee. The major function of the IT Band is to stabilize the knee, so it can receive a good deal of stress when running. IT Band Syndrome, which occurs when the IT Band becomes inflamed and most frequently presents itself as pain on the outside of the knee, can be caused by a variety of factors, including running too many miles, running on slanted pavement, wearing worn out shoes, frequent track workouts in the same direction, weak hips and glutes, or a combination of all of the above. Weak hips and glutes are common issues among runners and result in a breakdown of running form, which can place additional stress on the IT Band.
- Treat the symptoms: If you’re suffering from IT Band Syndrome, you probably want relief fast, so understanding the cause of your particular pain is critical. If you run regularly on cambered (slanted) pavement, consider mixing up your route or running in the center of the road, where it is the most flat. Alternate the direction you run on the track, or even just run your favorite route backwards – you’d be surprised what a big difference this can make! If you’ve recently ramped up your mileage considerably, take some time off and cut back your mileage, then ramp back up slowly. Regardless of the cause, ice, foam rolling and a sports massage will go a long way towards helping you feel better, but they won’t necessarily prevent the issue from recurring.
- Prevent it from happening again: Being careful with your mileage and mixing up your routes are both helpful strategies, but the key to maintaining healthy IT Bands in the long term is strengthening the hips and glutes. Try some of these exercises to target the lower portion of your core and take the pressure off your aching knees! Remember to strengthen both sides of the body to avoid uneven muscle development and prevent further injury.
- Clam Shells: While laying on your side, bend your knees 90 degrees so that your heels are in line with your hips and shoulders. Glue your toes together and bring your heels apart, then lift your top leg, forming a diamond shape between your legs. Begin to slowly lower the top leg down towards the bottom leg, keeping the toes together and heels apart, then lift the top leg back towards the ceiling, keeping the toes together. You should feel your hips and glutes light up! Perform 3 sets of 1 minute, taking the momentum out of the movement as much as possible.
- Sumo Squats: Stand with your feet slightly wider than your hips and your toes turned out at 11 and 1 o’clock. Sink your seat behind you as if you are sitting into a chair, keeping your knees directly over the ankles. Lower down until your thighs get close to parallel with the ground, then press through all four corners of the feet and use your legs to lift yourself back into a standing position. Do 3 sets of 12, and build from there!
- Donkey kicks: Start in an all-fours position on the ground, with the hands directly underneath the shoulders and the knees underneath the hips. Flex your right foot, and then press it towards the ceiling with the knee bent at a 90-degree angle until your thigh is parallel with the floor. Slowly lower the knee back down to the floor, then press the foot up to the ceiling, keeping the leg at a 90-degree angle the entire time. Keep the movement slow, removing all momentum, and concentrate on squeezing into the glutes. An advanced option would include adding a light weight behind the knee for additional resistance. Perform 3 sets of 12 on each side!
There’s no doubt that IT Band Syndrome can be frustrating, but with the right course of action, it can become a thing of your past. Now, get to strength training!