Q. What are some ways I can stretch my IT band and how can I avoid re-injury while running?
The IT band is a very strong, thick band of fibrous tissue that works together with the quadriceps or thigh muscles to provide stability and support to the knee joint during running, walking or any other movement. The IT band originates at the hip, extends along the outside of the quadriceps, and re-inserts slightly below the outside of the knee. Consequently, if there is excessive pressure exerted on the IT band primarily at the lateral side of the knee and at the hip, this tissue can become inflamed, resulting in IT band syndrome. Though primarily seen in long distance runners, ITBS can be caused by overuse, incorrect training routines or contributing biomechanics such as differences in leg length, “bowed” legs, or excessive pronation. For the majority of people, pain is felt slightly above the lateral edge of the knee as well as slightly below and may or may not persist following activity. In some cases, pain is also exhibited at the hip but is less frequent.
To Treat ITBS, First Find The Cause
Now that we’ve defined ITBS, what are some ways to treat it? The primary treatment is going to be resolving the initial cause. Contributing training factors may include incorrect or old running shoes, running on uneven road surfaces, insufficient warm up/cool down, increasing activity intensity and duration too quickly, or in cycling, excessive toeing in. Contributing biomechanical factors may include leg length differences, muscle imbalances, “bowed” legs, or foot pronation. Some of these may be a simple resolution and others may involve more time and effort. As with all injuries, be sure to seek professional medical advice.
In addition to determining the cause of the ITBS, obviously rest and apply ice to reduce inflammation. Avoiding any activity that can aggravate the IT should be sufficient enough to eliminate or greatly reduce felt pain when activity is resumed. If the pain is still acute after resting for a period of time, rest some more or try an activity less aggravating to the IT band!
IT band specific stretching and massage therapy is also going to be extremely beneficial, specifically self-myofascial release (SMR) using a medium-hard density foam roller. Stretching and SMR can be performed on a daily basis if necessary. Both the stretching and the SMR is going to gently work to elongate the IT band, increasing the flexibility, and thereby allowing it to better handle the stress placed on it. SMR in particular is also going to help stimulate blood flow to the area, which helps to promote overall healing.
Don’t Give Up, You Will Run Again
The success of the treatment is going to depend on how chronic the ITBS has been, determining and resolving the initial cause, as well as the consistency of the treatment. ITBS can be resolved in months and for some, it can be extremely chronic lasting for years. The secret to an effective treatment is going to be an aggressive cause resolution and persistent consistency! Keep at it!!