Runners are said to be among the most injury prone of all athletic groups, and it’s not far from the truth. The intensive nature of the sport coupled with its repetitive motions tends to invite specific injuries that newbies are often warned about. One such injury that is common in runners is the Iliotibial band syndrome, also known as IT band syndrome, ITB syndrome or ITBS. This injury is caused when the iliotibial band of connective tissue that runs from the outside of your hips to the outside of the knees, is tight or inflamed. The IT band helps to stabilize and manage the movement of the knee joint. When this band of tissues is inflamed, the movement of the knee becomes painful. This pain is especially felt when running and depending on the severity can completely sideline a runner for weeks if not months.
As is the case of most running injuries, the most typical symptom of IT band syndrome is a pain on the outside of the knee. But the difference between a knee injury and IT band syndrome is that a knee injury will usually swell up, but in the case of IT band syndrome, you will feel a consistent pain every five to seven minutes into a run.
One will not experience a clinking sensation like in the case of a lateral meniscus tear if you have IT band syndrome. The best way to find out the type and severity of the injury would be to get an MRI scan done instead of X-ray which will not give you an insight into the partial thickening of the band, which results from inflammation.
IT band syndrome can result from any activity which causes the leg to turn inwards repeatedly. The cause could be wearing worn-out shoes, running on a difficult surface (sand or rocky terrain) or simply clocking too many miles. Weak gluteal muscles can also contribute to this injury.
The reason why ITBS is a source of concern among runners is that despite being an overuse injury, it can affect beginners as well as seasoned athletes. Inflammation is caused when the IT band rubs against the knee bone and gets stressed in the process.
Research also indicates that the IT band syndrome is more common in women than in men. This would possibly be because women have a wider pelvis that can put additional stress on the IT band during a run.
ITBS can be extremely painful and damaging on your knee and related areas. Immediate rest is mandatory if you don’t want that pain creeping in recurrently through your practice sessions. If it prevents you from running in form, take a break for a week and do some cross-training instead, with a particular focus on activities that do not stress the area further, such as swimming, rowing or pool running. Yoga and side stretches are also beneficial to improve flexibility gradually.
A severe case of ITBS may require medical intervention. Consult a sports medicine expert if the pain does not subside even after you’ve taken a respite from running. In extreme scenarios, a cortisone injection and/or surgery may be necessary – but here’s hoping that it won’t come to either of those.
Prevention And Treatment
Both surgery and injections can have complicated side effects, and keep you from running for a good while. If you’ve not yet been afflicted by the dreaded ITBS, let’s keep it that way for as long as possible. Here are a few ways you can avoid this injury altogether:
- Ensure that your shoes support your feet adequately and are not worn out with wear. If you’ve outlasted your shoe well beyond its use, it’s time to replace them.
- Choose a flat terrain to run on, one that is accessible, pliant and does not throw up too many shocks. For the same reason, avoid running on concrete or very hard surfaces. If you have no choice but concrete, make sure you’re protected by really well-cushioned shoes.
- Add variety to your workouts with some interval runs and progressions. Change directions on track and introduce speed training to your runs. The constant change of motion will keep your IT band active without causing wear-and-tear from repetition.
- Warm up adequately and completely before your training session to loosen key muscles and joints. This will prevent sudden shocks to the IT band and keep it going even in intensive sessions. Dynamic stretching and cool down after workouts also ensure that your muscles unwind and recover after each run.
Side Leg Raise: Lie on your right side and lift your left leg to 45 degrees in a controlled manner, then lower it back down slowly. Repeat for both legs. For added resistance, you can loop a rubber band around your legs.
Clam Shell: Lie on your right side with your knees bent at around 90 degrees. Make sure your ankle is tucked in. Now open your legs by activating your upper glute muscle. Don’t bend forward or lean back and don’t move your pelvis to open the legs in front of you. Keep one leg on the floor. Perform 10-15 reps before switching sides.
Glute Bridge: Lie on your back with your knees bent in front you. Now slowly lift your back off the floor to form a straight line from your upper back to the knee. Lower your butt slowly to the ground and go upward again after a brief pause. Hold the top pause for maximum activation.
Side Squat Walks: With your knees slightly bent, get into a squat-like position and slowly take five steps to one side. Don’t move your upper body; keep looking straight ahead. After the first five steps get back up and then go back down and take five more steps in the opposite direction. Perform 3-5 sets on each side.