So I went a full year with no significant injuries from running, but after running the Maine Marathon in October 2013, I came down with an IT Band issue. If you’re a runner, you probably already know about Iliotibial band syndrome, but if you’re not a runner (or you’re an oblivious runner like me), IT Band Syndrome means that the outside of your knee screams at you when you try to do daredevilish, outlandish activities like walking down stairs, running more than 500 yards, sitting in a chair with your leg in the wrong position and then standing up, pedaling a bike, or chasing your two-year-old.
What Fixed It (Maybe!) For Me
If you search the Internet for IT Band remedies, you’ll probably find what I found; anything can cause the problem and the cure is rather specific to the individual. What I think worked for me was the following:
- Stop running until it doesn’t hurt to walk.
- Buy a cheap elastic exercise strap. I found a set of 3 at Target for less than 20 bucks. Put the strap around your ankles, stand on one foot, and extend your leg out to the side until your hip/butt hurts. Stand on the other leg and repeat in the other direction. When you get bored of this, lie down on your side with the band still around your ankles and lift the top leg up in the air until you’re tired; then flip over and do the other side.
- You might also want to try to do one-legged (pistol) squats. I still can’t do one completely on either leg, but I think attempting it and getting lower as the legs get stronger helped. Regardless, if you’re like me, failing miserably at these and falling down on your ass will at least entertain your family, dog, etc.
What Popular Tips Didn’t Work For Me
In no particular order:
- Running through it didn’t work. That’s my usual approach to injury management, but I couldn’t push through the pain on the outside of my right knee. It never loosened up, it never went away during a run, and it hurt progressively worse (like a rat chewing on and earlier during runs. I contemplated switching to croquet.
- Stretching didn’t seem to help. I tried every stretch I could find to target the IT Band, but none seemed to help me return to running. It’s of course possible that stretching helped make the exercises work and/or sped up the recovery, but I’m unconvinced of this.
- Many people swear by foam rollers. I’m unconvinced of their effectiveness for IT Band recovery. Rolling up and down the leg (I had the large roller that you lie on, rather than the hand roller) feels good in a “hurts like f’ing hell so it might be helping” kind of way, but I didn’t notice any lasting benefit of rolling. Again, an argument could certainly be made that foam rolling played a part in conjunction with exercises, but I don’t think it did much for me.
- Resting alone didn’t seem to help. Before I did any specific exercises, stretching, etc., I just took a couple weeks off from running. The pain went away during this time, but it came right back when I tried to start running again. I could never go more than a couple miles before shutting it down again.
What I Think Caused My Particular IT Band Issue
I’m not a doctor and I imagine listening to people ponder what caused/fixed their injuries is of dubious merit, but hell… you’ve made it this far… so here’s what I think happened.
- Since doing exercises that target the hips/butt seemed to fix the problem (fingers crossed), it seems likely that I had/have weak muscles that are not specifically strengthened by running.
- Most sources call this an “overuse” injury, but that never sat well with me, because I had run quite a bit over the past year without any issues. My running included half marathons and several long runs in preparation for a marathon, and I never significantly ramped up my weekly mileage.
- I ran a marathon in early October and struggled with leg cramps over the last 10K, and I’m suspicious that I caused some problems/irritation during that race. I took about 5 days off after the marathon and then returned to my normal running routine, which included a weekly long run of about 13 miles. I did this for a couple weeks before the IT Band issues popped up, so I think this is a case of insufficiently recovering from the marathon before returning to longer runs. I think lurching toward the finish of the marathon screwed up some hip/butt muscles/attachments/legos not usually taxed during my training/running, and I think that once they were beaten down they didn’t have a chance to repair before I returned to running. A couple long runs were then probably enough to cause a problem… in my case an IT Band issue.
- I keep having birthdays.