About a month ago I self-diagnosed myself with a mild to moderate case of IT band syndrome, and since then I’ve been reading up on it and trying out some treatment methods. Here’s how it started and what I’ve done to treat it.
I’ve never been much of a runner. My Dad is a runner. My best friend is a runner. My wife is a runner. But with an 11 mile Tough Mudder course on the horizon and a, to put it kindly, less than stellar cardio option with P90X (seriously, Tony? some weak ass kickboxing? You’re better than that), I decided to pick up running.
Only a couple runs in, I noticed a really painful trend. Right around the three to four mile mark of every run, almost like clock work, I would start to feel this sharp, stabbing, raw grinding type pain on the outside part of my knee. I don’t want to exaggerate, but I’ve seen those Saw movies and I think I can now relate to what they were going through.
Thinking very rational thoughts at the time — “my Grandma can run 3 miles, suck it up!” — I would do a very sad, sad looking gallop-type run until I reached a respectable 5 mile distance. And then I’d collapse in pain.
Using my strong powers of deduction, I came to the scientific conclusion that something just ain’t right with my knee area.
Googling my symptoms, I realized I was suffering from IT band syndrome. Then I had a conversation with myself that went something like this:
“An IT whatsit?”
“Oh, that’s right, I got a “D” in college anatomy”
“I’ll just Google some more…”
For all you visual learners, this is your IT band:
And here is your IT band while running:
It’s a long band of inelastic tissue that starts up in the hip, attaches in your glute, and inserts into your patella (knee).
Since I thought tightness was the issue, I focused mainly on stretching and foam rolling (I’ll have links for these at the bottom). I also heard good things about kinesthetic tape and IT band straps, so I bought one of each. Listen, both of these products are great. After feeling searing pain at 3 miles, I put both the tape and the strap on and I immediately went out and ran my first 10k with no pain at all. I thought I had it all figured out.
The next few runs with my tape/strap technique didn’t go so well. The pain wasn’t anywhere near as intense as before, but it was still there — mostly at 5+ miles or with any uphill running.
What I found through the readings was that the tightness and the raw rubbing against the knee isn’t the CAUSE, but rather the result. The actual cause lies in weak glutes, weak hip muscles, or overtraining, or some combination of those. What I needed to do was treat the actual underlying cause — by doing strengthening exercises.
The bulk of the evidence comes from a study back in July of 2000 by Dr. Michael Fredericson. He found statistically significant weakness in the hip abductors of those suffering from IT band syndrome when compared to healthy runners. His 6 week rehab focusing on strengthening the glutes specifically resulted in this finding:
After six weeks of rehabilitation, 22 of 24 athletes were pain free with all exercises and able to return to running, and at a six-month follow-up there were no reports of recurrence.
What did they do, and what can you do to recover?
— It’s not a bad idea to have a formal diagnosis from a physical therapist, but after that I wouldn’t pay the money to keep seeing him or her for treatment.
— Strengthening exercises like these and these. All you need is a thera-band (maybe $5-$10). As always, pay close attention to proper form, the number of reps you should be doing, and how many times a week you can do these exercises.
— Foam rolling. Invest in a $20 foam roller! Seriously, do it. It’s like giving yourself a massage.
— IT band stretches like this:
— Glute stretches like the bridge and the seated glute stretch:
— Strengthen your core, as well.
— Cross train with biking or swimming…or just rest!
Looking back at the anatomy image and the point of insertion, it really makes sense that stronger hips and glutes is the remedy. If you really have to run, I’d say buy some of the kinesthetic tape or an IT band strap. At the first opportunity, though, start treating the underlying cause. I’m starting my rehab and I’ll give y’all an update on how it goes.