This whole IT band thing is getting pretty old.
There’s been a bit of a nagging dull pain at points during my runs lately, but it wasn’t constant and was something I was able to run through. And after each run I passed the stair test; as long as I could walk down a flight of stairs without any pain I knew I was good.
And then during yesterday’s beautifully sunny run that sharp, undeniable pain came back shortly after mile 4. And of course, being the stubborn human I am, I ran the other 4 miles. I occasionally had to stop to massage the outside of my knee and I had to walk down all the hills, but damnit I did it!
I’d like to say I don’t know what went wrong here, but I do. I was making progress and things were going well so I thought I could get away with skipping the nighttime round of exercises my physiotherapist gave me. Instead of spending 30 minutes foam rolling, icing, and clam shell-ing after getting home from work at 12:15am I’ve only been spending 15 minutes rolling and icing. And admittedly, some Sundays none of the above happens.
Lesson of the day: DO YOUR DAMN CLAMSHELLS ARIANA.
I have one month and 3 days until BMO and I am determined to run it strong! I don’t care if I have to give up heavy squats for leg lifts for the next month; I don’t care if I just want to go to bed when I get home from work; I don’t care if I have to put some business planning aside to get this stuff done. If I don’t write another blog post for the next month it’s probably because I’m doing 100’s of clamshells.
Since this pesky little bugger has been the topic of more and more blog posts recently I thought it might be a good idea to shed some light on what the iliotibial tract is for those of you who may not know.
The IT band is not a musical ensemble made of technologically-inclined individuals as one of my colleagues initially thought. The IT band is a layer of connective tissue running from the hip to the knee that’s meant to stabilize the knee joint. It’s like any muscle and can become tight and inflamed, which in turn causes pain. Some people feel it up on the hip and others, like myself, feel it on the outside of the knee. Right where Gerdy’s tubercle is!
It’s a really tricky thing to stretch and, unlike the hamstrings which let you know when they’re tight, it may not give any signs that indicate it needs some love until it’s too late. Tight glutes can also contribute to IT band pain, and they’re just as sneaky. In many cases poor running mechanics combined with muscle tightness are the culprits, but today we’re going to focus on just the tightness.
Unfortunately IT band pain is of those things that by the time you realize there’s a problem there’s A LOT of work that needs to be done. In most cases it’s not as simple as spending 20 minutes stretching and foam rolling and then you’re good to go. This requires persistent and dedicated stretching, rolling, and icing on a daily basis. And let me tell you, this foam rolling business can be PAINFUL.
The best way I’ve found to go about this is to spend some time working on the upper half of the leg and then the lower half. When you feel a deep painful spot, STAY THERE. Let that foam roller make you its bitch. Cry if you have to. But whatever you do don’t just skip over the painful parts. That’s where the magic happens 😉 I’ll usually roll up and down the top half of of my leg 15 times, then up and down the bottom half 15 times, stopping wherever I feel a super tense spot.
The piriformis is another nasty little muscle tucked in among the glutes that can contribute to IT band pain. Keeping this guy nice and loose will help reduce the risk for IT band pain, and if you thought rolling your IT band was painful wait until you roll your piriformis. Grab a tennis ball and, sitting on the floor, stick it under one side of your glutes. Cross that same leg over the other leg and roll back and forth. Then repeat on the other side. Pure. Hell.
But as with everything, the more you foam roll the easier it gets. You start to work out those knots so there’s less tension to break through, and (hopefully) you just become better at tolerating the pain.
To stretch your IT band cross your left leg over your right while standing, then lean your upper body to the left. You may have to stick your butt back a bit, but you should feel a stretch on the outside of the right leg. Hold this stretch for about 30 seconds, and I don’t think I need to tell you to repeat it on the other side 😉
A couple of other stretches I’ve found beneficial are pigeon and, my favourite, the lying pretzel stretch. This is going to be way easier for me to show you as opposed to type, so here you go (taken from here):
Try to keep that knee pushed as far away from you as possible, and if you want to make the stretch deeper you can stick a foam roller under your bum. Fun times!
If you’re a runner and aren’t experiencing any IT band pain (I secretly hate you) I highly recommend incorporating these practices into your daily routine to ensure you stay pain-free! Muscles and connective tissue are like annoying boyfriends, and the more you ignore them the more they’ll turn around and bite you in the ass. I KNOW stretching and foam rolling is boring and you have better things to do with your day. But if you’re passionate about what you do, I urge you to take these precautionary steps so you can continue to do the things you love for a long long time!
Have you ever experienced IT band pain? If so, what did you do to remedy it? Any other recurring injuries you’d like to tell to take a hike?