While most major marathons are canceled due to the ongoing health crisis, many runners are still pushing their personal distance and intensity records in preparation for virtual races — yes, virtual marathons, included.
And with marathon season comes iliotibial (IT) band syndrome season. It's true: from August to October, Dr. James Gladstone, MD, the chief of the Sports Medicine Service at Mount Sinai Health System, always sees a spike in running patients experiencing outer-knee pain.
Dr. Gladstone explained that roads have a pitch that allows for water drainage, and running in the same direction on these roads all the time can strain your IT band (a thick tendon that runs from the outer side of your pelvis and attaches to the knee). When your IT band is tight, it can rub against the outer thigh bone and create friction, pain, and inflammation on the outer knee, Dr. Gladstone said.
"The most common symptom is pain on the outer side of the knee that typically develops as you begin to run. Sometimes, one can run through it, but when it gets bad, it stops you from running often after only a quarter of a mile or so."
According to Dr. Gladstone, that pain can range from a low-grade achiness and soreness to stabbing, burning, or piercing discomfort.
He added that bad workout habits like ignoring the pain, not stretching or foam rolling, or not backing off your running distance or intensity can cause IT band syndrome to remain or worsen.
Warming up and cooling down before and after running can certainly help loosen up the muscle and tendon, and possibly prevent the onset of IT band syndrome. When doing so, make sure to focus on the flexibility in your hips, glutes, hamstrings, and calves, Dr. Gladstone said.
"When [IT band syndrome] gets really bad, you have no choice but to stop running. Foam rolling can be very helpful and targeted physical therapy can be equally helpful."
In some severe cases, surgery is necessary for recovery as well, so it's very important that you see a doctor if you're experiencing pain.
Many who are training at a marathon level consider running a passion. So, for the sake of longevity, switch up your route, love your foam roller, take breaks, and never hesitate to seek a doctor's advice when needed.