Many of us have been there; we are training hard, running hard, then we start to feel some discomfort on the outside of our thigh down to the knee. Some of us ignore it until it is too late, some of us start taking the time to understand what is going on and correct it or treat it. Usually, in a runner, this is the start of ITBS (Iliotibial Band Syndrome). If you let it linger too long, you can put yourself out of commission quickly. The best thing to do is start treating it before it even happens.
What is the IT Band?
The IT Band (Iliotibial Band) is a connective tissue that runs down the outside of your leg from your gluteal muscles to just below your knee. This connective tissue provides stability to your knee and can become inflamed when it rubs over the outside of the knee or when it compresses the soft tissues and a sac around the knee. While there is no definite answer as to whether which of those two assertions are accurate, there is agreement that weak gluteal muscles and Tensor fasciae latae (TFL) can usually bear the blame.
Your TFL performs some important functions. It helps Psoas with hip flexion and the Gluteus medius with abduction. The Glutes are responsible for the abduction, internal rotation, and pelvis stabilization. In many of us, active or sedentary, weak glutes can cause the TFL to pick up some of the slack, which it does by tightening and pulling on the IT Band. This constant pulling causes the IT band to become stressed, inflamed, and WHAMMO!, IT Band pain.
Some things that we all do that can contribute to ITBS:
- Running on a banked surface like a road (roads are sloped to allow water run off)
- Poor Warm up or cool down
- Excessive uphill and downhill running
- Hiking long distances
Treatment and Prevention
While conventional wisdom would suggest sitting on your backside and R.I.C.E. (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) as treatment, this isn’t always the best case scenario for treating ITBS. Instead, eliminating the causes can provide long lasting results. How do you do this? Well, one way is to strengthen the muscles responsible for the stress on the IT Band in the first place.
Side Leg Raise – Lie down on your left side with both legs completely straight. Raise your right leg slowly until you reach approximately 45 degrees then lower and repeat. Perform this action on both your left and your right side for approximately 20-30 reps. Add a resistance band for additional resistance. For a more advanced version, perform a simultaneous side plank.
Hip Bridge – Lie on your back with your arms straight at your side. Keep your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Use your glutes to raise your hips, while keeping your feet firmly planted, until your body is straight. Lower slowly and repeat for 20-30 reps.
Clam Shells – Lie on your left side with your knees at approximately 90 degrees and your feet together. Use your glutes to open and close your legs like… you guessed it, a clamshell. Repeat for 20-30 reps. Add a resistance band for additional resistance.
Side Shuffles – Stand with your feet hip width apart and shuffle to the left for 50 steps then to the right. Repeat for 3-5 sets. Add a resistance band for additional resistance.
Pistol Squats – Stand on your left leg with your knee raised up in front of you. Lower yourself allowing your right leg to straighten out in front of you and your left quadriceps to be parallel with the floor. Repeat 5-15 reps per leg.
Jump Squats – Cross your arms over your chest with your head up and your back straight. Squat down until your thighs are parallel with the floor and spring up into the air as fast and as high as possible. Repeat for 20-30 reps.
Bodyweight Squats – Stand with your feet shoulder width apart and place your hands behind your head. Flex your knees and your hips while sitting back until your thighs are parallel with the floor. Keep your head up and your chest out. Repeat 20-30 reps.
Lunges – Keep your upper body straight with your shoulders back and head up. Step forward with your left leg, lowering your hips until your knees are 90 degrees making sure to keep your knee above your ankle. Push forward until you are standing and repeat with your right leg. Repeat for 20-50 reps.
Don’t Forget Your Core
Forearm Plank – Lie face down on the floor with your feet hip width apart and press the balls of your feet into the floor. Bend your elbows and place your forearms on the floor with the palms of your hands flat on the floor. Tighten your abs while looking straight down at the floor, spine straight, and hold the position. Maintain this for as long as you can until you can perform 1-minute sets. 5-10.
Side Plank – Lie on your side with your legs straight and stacked on top of one another. Using your lower elbow and forearm (the one on the ground), raise your body, keeping your abs tight, until your back is straight, hips and knees are off the floor. Maintain this for as long as you can until you can perform 1-minute sets. 5-10.
Bicycles – Lie on your back with your fingers interlaced behind your head and your legs in the air. Pull your knees towards your chest and raise your shoulders off the ground. Straighten your left leg at a 45-degree angle and rotate your body towards your right bringing the elbow towards the bent knee. Repeat with the right leg. 20-30 reps.
Superman – Simultaneously raise your arms, legs, and chest off of the floor and hold this contraction for 10-20 seconds. 5-10 sets
Reverse Crunch – Lie on your back with your knees together and your legs bent at 90 degrees. Keep your feet firmly planted on the floor. Tighten your abs to lift your hips off the floor and “crunch” your knees towards your chest. 20-30 Reps.
Additionally, it wouldn’t hurt to locate a good massage therapist in your area… they work wonders.