12/02/2020 by Dr. Alex Barone
Don’t Run Into IT Band Syndrome
Running on hard, flat surfaces for miles and miles can cause IT band issues. Road runners especially need to be on the lookout for symptoms. If you have a gradual onset of pain with running, downhill running or walking, and/or going down stairs, it could be IT band syndrome.
The worst thing you can say to a runner is that they need to take time off.
When I first felt sharp pain and tightness at the outside of my knee, I hoped it would work itself out. Since it got worse with downhill running and going downstairs, I knew something was up. But I did NOT want to take time off from running. I wanted to keep up with my favorite activity for fitness and stress reduction.
I was suffering severe, sharp pain on the outside of my knee.
I had been running long distances on a flat paved trail for a few weeks. The pain slowly got worse over time. Eventually I had to stop running due to the pain. Going down my apartment stairs was also extremely difficult.
I felt terrified that I had torn a ligament.
I was a chiropractic student at the time. The idea of surgery made me feel even more afraid. I did not want to take time away from my career development or life in general. Fortunately for me, I soon learned about IT band syndrome in my lower extremity diagnosis class.
I began doing soft tissue work on my IT band, along with daily stretching and strengthening.
After a week or two of rehabbing myself, I was able to slowly start running again without pain. Now I try to focus on proper warm ups, and I have added more soft & hilly trail running to reduce repetitive stress.
IT band syndrome often happens to long distance runners like me.
Running on hard, flat surfaces for miles and miles can cause IT band issues. Road runners especially need to be on the lookout for symptoms. If you have a gradual onset of pain with running, downhill running or walking, and/or going down stairs, see a health professional for a diagnosis.
If you are experiencing pain on the outside of the knee, we can help you diagnose the cause.
For folks living in Santa Cruz County, we can see you in our clinic.We may use positive orthopedic tests for your IT band —
- Ober’s test identifies tightness of the iliotibial band
- The Nobel Compression test detects pain, abnormalities, and tightness of the iliotibial tract.
We'll also discuss your lifestyle and activities to help determine if your diagnosis is IT band syndrome.
Why is the IT band a problem for runners?
The Iliotibial band is a long band of fascia that originates from the Tensor Fascia Lata (TFL) muscle in your hip. The band runs from this muscle all the way to the knee. If the muscle is tight, it will pull on the IT band causing tightness. Bending the knee to 35 degrees causes the band to rub on bony structures around the knee. This friction causes pain and inflammation.
Treatments for IT band syndrome tend to involve the TFL muscle.
IT band syndrome treatments work by helping decrease muscle tightness and increase TFL muscle strength. A strong, yet supple muscle can provide the support it is designed to give, while avoiding dysfunction that causes pain.
Depending on your specific needs, we may prescribe —
- topical CBD creams
- foam roller exercises
- rolling pin/stick exercises
- elastic bands/loop exercises
Your severity of pain and the amount of rest recovery you can take will determine how long it takes to heal. It could take anywhere from 2 weeks to 2 months. The sooner you come to see us, the sooner you can get back into running.
How can you prevent IT band syndrome on your own?
Keep the TFL muscle strong, yet supple to decrease your chances of pain.
Stretching the TFL muscle and IT band before and after you run is essential. The best preventative self-care measures for the TFL and IT band include —
- pigeon pose
- crossing one leg in front of the other while standing and reaching overhead and to the side
- figure four position
- foam rolling the TFL muscle and IT band
You can strengthen the TFL muscle with these exercises—
A variable running routine also helps to avoid IT band syndrome.
Running on hard flat surfaces causes you to do the exact same motion over and over again. Running on variable surfaces, like hilly trails, causes different muscles to fire and gives others a break. Your main uphill muscles are different from your main downhill or side-to-side muscles. Mixing up the routine reduces the frequency of repetitive use.
No one wants to take time off from their fitness routine.
The best way to avoid long breaks from your running routine is to take preventative measures, and seek treatment when you feel pain. Stretch and strengthen to avoid pain. Mix up your routine to avoid repetitive stress. See the doc when you notice outer knee pain. With proper care, you'll be back into life in no time.