This is yet another post in our Guide to Common Running Injuries. This week we tackle another common one: Illiotibial Band Syndrome, or ITBS. ITBS doesn’t discriminate. If you’re a beginner runner or seasoned veteran you can still be blindsided by a bad case of ITBS. The key, as with most injuries, is to get on top of it early, usually with rest, so that it doesn’t become a chronic issue. ITBS effectively ended the collegiate running career of the author of this article. Being a naive and stubborn college kid, I tried to run through it, but was only met with chronic pain and a greatly prolonged recovery period. Through my experience and research I’m determined not to let this happen to you!
The IT band is a thick band of tissue that runs from the side of your pelvis, down the outside of your hip and upper leg, and connects just below the knee to the bottom of the femur. Pain usually occurs when the IT band rubs against the end of that femur bone. Pain then manifests itself in the outside of the knee. It can be dull or sharp at times, and in the early stages of ITBS, you’ll begin to feel it at about 5-10 minutes into your runs. Another way to test to see if ITBS is the culprit of your pain is to bend your knee at a 45 degree angle. It you feel pain or discomfort, then this can likely be attributed to the IT band. ITBS is a typical overuse injury for runners. Other contributing factors can be running on a banked surface too much (either an indoor track or titled road) or wearing worn out shoes.
If you begin to feel pain on the outside on your knee, this first course of action is to take a few days off from training and allow the inflammation to subside. Ice it, take anti-inflammatories, and wear compression. Taking a few days off may be tough if you’re excited to be training, but the alternative is to take several weeks off down the road if you try to run through it. So rest now rather than have your training come to a screeching halt later! Also, get a foam roller and roll out your IT band. Do this in the areas where it does NOT hurt (ie avoid the knee). Beyond this, there are several strategies to keep in mind as you resume training. First, if you frequently run on a track or slanted road, switch directions to try to get equal amounts of time in both directions. This will break up the stress that one side of your body is constantly absorbing and reduce the likelihood of over-straining your IT band. Running on softer surfaces will also lighten the stress. Make sure your running shoes are in good condition and you’re running in the right type of shoe. If the above strategies don’t work, you’ll simply need to take a bit more time off to heal up. Consider cross training such as swimming or biking, but do not try to run through it or it will become even more chronic. Beyond all of this, frequent stretching and exercises that strengthen the hip and glutes may also help, although the science in this area is mixed. Bottom line: take a few days rest if you experience pain on the outside of your knee and you’ll likely nip it in the butt early rather than having it become chronic, full-blown ITBS.