As runners, we expect a little fatigue and soreness from time to time. But any sort of sharp pain is your body’s way of telling you that something is wrong.
One of the most common sources of pain that can stop runners in their tracks is iliotibial band syndrome. Frequently misunderstood, IT band syndrome is often treated incorrectly.
Common treatments include ice, rest and stretching, and, while all of these have their place in treating a running injury, ITBS is best approached proactively.
WHAT IS THE IT BAND?
The IT band is a thick, fibrous band of connective tissue that runs down the outside of your thigh. It originates from your gluteal muscles and tensor fasciae latae and connects just below your knee. Unlike “runner’s knee,” where pain is commonly felt around or below the kneecap, ITBS usually presents as pain on the outside of your knee.
ITBS can become a chronic pest of an injury if not treated correctly, so it’s important to tackle it early on. While rest will help you initially, a specific set of strength exercises is your best long-term solution. If you have never been affected by ITBS, good news: Prevention is definitely the best medicine.
Because the IT band is so intricately connected to the gluteals, a weak butt can contribute to decreased stability in the knee. When you’re fatigued, your hips and glutes are less able to compensate, and the knee can rotate excessively inward or outward. A flare-up of ITBS can come on abruptly and may feel like a stabbing sensation on the outside of your knee.
If you’re suffering from ITBS, the first thing you’ll need to do is stop running temporarily. But this doesn’t mean that you should be completely sedentary. ITBS is best treated with active recovery, so even if you’re not running, you should be doing specific exercises to strengthen your weak areas and get yourself back on track quickly.
Both prevention and treatment of ITBS come from strengthening the hip and gluteal muscles. Why is this so effective? Simply put, most of us have a weak butt. Sedentary jobs and lifestyles contribute to this weakness, but strength training is a simple way to overcome it.
The beauty of the routine described below is that it can be used for prevention and recovery. If your injury is recent and relatively minor, you should be well on the road to recovery in 1–2 weeks. Chronic, more serious cases may take longer, but don’t despair. Treating the source of the problem will get you back to running eventually, and you’ll be stronger and more resilient than you were before your injury.
Rest assured that this treatment approach has worked for me (after a 6-month layoff) as well as thousands of other runners like you who are suffering from ITBS.
THE ITBS REHAB ROUTINE
This routine takes about 15 minutes to complete once you are familiar with the exercises. The only piece of equipment you’ll need is a rubber exercise band to increase resistance in some of the exercises. There are a variety of strengths available that can provide increasing levels of resistance.
1. SIDE LEG RAISE
Lie on your right side with both legs straight. Slowly raise your left leg about 45 degrees, then lower. Repeat on both sides. To make this move more challenging, use an exercise band around your ankles to increase resistance. Reps: 20–30 on each side
2. CLAM SHELL
Lie on your right side with your knees bent at a 90-degree angle to your torso. Keeping your feet together, use your glutes to slowly open and close your legs like a clamshell. Keep the motion controlled, and don’t allow your pelvis to rock throughout the movement. Use an exercise band just above your knees to increase resistance. Reps: 20–30 on each side
3. HIP THRUST
Lie on your back with your arms at your sides, knees bent and your feet on the floor. Pushing your heels into the ground, use your glutes to raise your pelvis up until your body forms a straight line from your knees to your shoulders. Lower slowly, then repeat. For a more advanced version, raise one leg into the air and perform the same exercise with each leg individually. Reps: 20–30 on each side
4. SIDE HIP BRIDGE
Lie on your side with your feet elevated 1–2 feet off the ground on a stable surface. Lift your torso using your hip muscles while keeping your spine stable, then lower slowly. Reps: 10–30 on each side
5. SIDE SHUFFLE
Stand with your legs about hip-width apart with an exercise band around your ankles. Take 10 steps to the right, then 10 back to the left. This is one set. The exercise band should remain tight enough to provide resistance throughout the entire movement. Reps: 3–5 sets
6. PISTOL SQUAT
Stand on your right leg with your left knee raised out in front of you. Slowly lower yourself, balancing on your right leg and allowing your left leg to straighten out in front of you. Try to lower yourself until your quad is just about parallel with the floor, then slowly come back up. Reps: 5–15 per leg
7. HIP HIKE
Stand on your right foot. Start with your pelvis in a neutral position, and then drop the left side so it is several inches below the right side of your pelvic bone. Use your right hip muscle to lift your left side back to its neutral position. Reps: 10–30 on each side
Here are several key points to remember when treating ITBS:
- See a doctor if pain persists despite ongoing recovery efforts.
- Reduce the number of repetitions if needed.
- If you’re currently injured, perform this routine every other day.
- Other runner-specific core and strength workouts should be completed on alternating days.
- Download an illustrated guide of a similar routine.
With appropriate treatment, your ITBS should be short-lived, and you’ll be back to running and stronger than ever.