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. The Iliotibial band syndrome (ITBS) is one of them. Despite that tongue-twister of a name, it is a fairly common and recurring running injury to watch out for – as a bad case can debilitate you for weeks. Caused largely due to overuse of certain muscle groups, ITBS is common among runners and cyclists and occurs when there is an inflammation in the ligament stretching from the hip to the shin, known as the iliotibial band. The IT band, which is connected to knee, helps in stabilizing the joint during the cyclical action of running. When tight or inflamed, the same band affects the movement of the knee – rather painfully.

Repeated inward movement of the leg (as during running) can result in tightness or inflammation, and runners feel this through a typical swelling and pain outside the knee. While standalone knee injuries are also common among athletes, ITBS can be detected through an MRI scan that will confirm the thickening of the band along the leg. If you face recurring knee swelling and aches after your runs, bending you knee at 45 degrees and seeing if the pain is concentrated on the outside can confirm whether it’s ITBS you’re dealing with.

Top causes of ITBS
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. Some of the chief causes include:

  • Wearing worn out shoes that don’t offer the kind of cushioning you need;
  • Running downhill for too long or with improper technique;
  • Weak hip muscles that result in too much pressure on the knee;
  • Tight muscles in your hips or along the side of the leg;
  • Poor or incorrect running form;
  • Overtraining on a specific running workout
  • Treat it right
    Left unchecked, ITBS can be extremely painful and damaging on your knee and related areas, keeping you away from the track longer than you would like. 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. These include swimming, rowing or pool running. Yoga and side stretches are also beneficial.

    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.

    Image: Wenn.com
    Cross train in the pool (Image: Wenn.com)

    Prevention is better
    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. 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.
  • Do not over-train. You may not feel ITBS kicking in immediately but you will regret the hours of pounding the pavement once you find yourself stuck at home waiting to heal.
  • 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.
  • Become a wiser, injury-free runner by signing up for FirstRun’s on-demand injury prevention and management service RunDoctor. To know more, click here.

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