8 miles in to my 16 mile run a slight burning around my knee turned in to a stabbing pain, that had me sitting on the sidewalk gulping back the tears. This was in the age before you took your cell phone everywhere or even Googled every injury.
So I hobbled 8 miles home, sniffling, cussing and wondering what the heck just happened.
Thus began my first foray in to working with sports medicine Dr’s to try and resolve and issue. Luckily this doctor immediately identified my issue as IT Band Syndrome. Unluckily (err is that a word), this is one persistent problem.
I spent the next few years in a cycle of it’s better, sigh no it’s not.
Then I did what I do best. Research. Test. Talk to TONS of experts.
The next 10 years of running, have been blissfully free of IT Band pain. This isn’t to say it never gets tight, but now I know how to stay on top of it so that it never becomes painful or stops me from running.
With the first twinge of outside knee pain after running, I check my shoes, head to the chiropractor and ensure I’m doing a great warm up. After that, here’s a bit more on what you need to know about a tight IT Band and resolving it for good!
But if you’re not quite ready to drop a crazy $7, I’ve got plenty of ideas and tips here for you as well!
Understanding IT Band Syndrome
Without getting to sciencey on you, the IT Band muscle is not a muscle at all. You can now be the smarty pants in your group when you explain, the IT Band is connective tissue that runs from your hip to your knee. As the IT Band gets tight it begins to rub on the insertion points creating outer knee pain.
The IT band provides essential support for the outer hip in moving and standing upright. Which is why there are a number of things that could cause it to become tight!
Consider the IT Band a bit like acne, it’s where your body gives you a signal that you’re doing something wrong. You didn’t clean your make up off before bed (do your hip strength work), you’re eating foods your body doesn’t like (massive changes to your running routine), or you’re using the wrong products (you’re form sucks).
Where the IT Band hurts?
The most common and obvious is outer knee pain while running. It usually comes on suddenly and sharply for most runners, then often seems to stop if they begin to walk. Appearing again when they try to run…until we keep pushing it and it hurts all the time.
- Outside of knee (where IT Band connects) – primary pain point
- Along the outside of your leg
- A the top of your hip (where the IT Band connects)
What causes IT Band Syndrome?
- Hips out of alignment (causes leg length discrepancy)
- Poor running form
- The standard running injury cause: running too much, too fast, too far
- Tight hips
- Weak glutes
For many runners, particularly females, we tend to become quad dominant and overtime the reliance on our stronger muscle means that we stop utilizing our gluteal muscles (aka your ass). If the brain stops telling the glutes to engage while you run, eventually your gait changes and boom…your IT Band starts to hurt.
Scientifically speaking “Average hip abductor (Glute medius) torque in 24 distance runners with ITBS was found by Fredericson et al (2000) to be significantly weaker than that of the uninjured limb and controls.”
Short hand…work your butt out, not off with these glute strengthening moves.
IT Band Syndrome will only get worse over time.
You can’t run through it. You must address the cause and take care to resolve it before it sidelines you! What might start as a quick sharp pain that goes away will morph in a full leg pain that makes it hard to walk.
Trust me, you don’t want to be the dumb runner I was in 2007.IT Band exercises and stretches to eliminate the pain once and for all! A must read for runners #runchat Click To Tweet
How to Eliminate IT Band Pain?
First, while it’s tempting to do as I did and throw everything at it immediately the more common sense approach is to try a few things at a time. This allows you to figure out what actually helped, allowing your body to adjust to the change and keep that handy for any future issues.
Yup, I just implied that once you’ve had IT Band pain it might comeback. BUT as I shared with my story you can change this pattern.
Second, your IT Band is not evil and does not need to be beaten in to submission. In fact, you really shouldn’t be using the roller right along your IT Band when it’s inflamed at all. (Read why to stop foam rolling your IT Band!) You’ll also see below the stretches you can use instead to help alleviate the tightness.
Should You Stop All Activity?
While many general doctors will tell you simply to rest, I’ve yet to see that solve things for most with IT Band issues. In fact, most of the physical therapists or sports medicine Dr’s have agreed that rest will drop inflammation so it feels better, but it will begin to hurt again as soon as you start unless you fix the root issue.
If you’re in pain when you run, STOP!!!
If you can walk, do that instead as you recover. The walking will indeed help your running.
If you can’t walk, swim.
If you can’t swim, then you definitely need to get to a sports medicine Dr.
- First evaluate your hips to find out if you’re out of alignment
- Remember that ice is not always the solution, especially for tight muscles
- Learn how to correctly foam roll around the IT Band
- Include the below IT Band exercises
- Include consistent IT Band stretches
- Increase your hip work with resistance bands
IT Band Stretches
You can’t relax the IT Band, that’s a fallacy. It’s tissue, not a muscle, so you can’t stretch it out, you can’t lengthen it and you can’t fight it.
What you can do is strengthen other areas so that your IT Band isn’t taking a beating for their weaknesses, poor form or from sitting all day.
In this video you’ll find some of my favorite IT Band exercises, which you can start doing daily right now. If you’re in pain, many of these will still be doable and help you to work through it.
As you get back to running, continue using these in your pre-run warm up. And make that warm up a PRIORITY!
The best part of these IT Band stretches is that they address all kinds of normal runner issues. IT Band stretches for hip pain, glute pain and knee pain are all rolled in to these.
I don’t know about you, but double duty makes me happy.
If you’re looking for more IT Band exercise and IT Band pain relief ideas you can do at home, checkout the IT Band Solution.
Have any other IT Band questions?
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