If you're a runner, even just casually, this story may be familiar. After a few weeks of running, usually outdoors, maybe with a few hills, you start to feel a sharp pain on the outside of your knee. The weirdest part: it happens when you're running downhill, and walking down stairs. You may also experience pain radiating the length of your IT band all the way up to your hip. After a visit to my doctor he quickly diagnosed me with Iliotibial Band Syndrome (ITB for short), a common but painful running injury. It happens often to new runners or those who, like me, increase mileage too quickly.
After many visits to a physical therapist, I found the following tips to be especially helpful in treating and preventing ITB Syndrome:
- Stretch. The first thing he asked me was how much I was warming up before running. Thinking back on my early morning runs where I'd hustle to fit in my five miles before work, the answer is: not nearly enough. He advised me to thoroughly stretch my calf muscles and hips before starting a long run to improve my stride.
- Replace worn-out running shoes. You should replace shoes every 350 to 500 miles. If you're running 20 miles a week, that's every four to five months. Running in worn-out sneaks can cause poor form, leading to problems with your IT band.
Even how you sit at your desk can affect your IT band, to learn why
- Don't cross your legs when you're sitting. This was one of the hardest directives for me to follow, given that I tend to cross my legs all day long at my desk. Turns out, sitting like that was wrecking my posture and causing even more pain. After making a conscious effort to stop, both my posture and running form improved significantly. If you have a hard time un-crossing, try sitting with your ankles crossed instead. It helped ease the transition.
- Roll out your IT band. While this exercise using a foam roller will help to alleviate IT band pain, it also helps prevent problems from starting in the first place. It's painful, especially if you're already having IT band issues, but after a week or two of consistent rolling, you'll notice less pain.
Perhaps the most important tip of all is to keep up with these suggestions even if the symptoms go away. While a physical therapist helped me work through the problem the first time around, I recently fell back into my careless ways and experienced another IT band flare-up. And if you're a runner (beginner or seasoned), join the Running Sugar group and share your tips, experiences, and opinions.