This article will cover IT band strains – what they are, how they develop, how to treat the injury, and how to prevent it from happening. ITBS is very annoying and painful. It’s not as common as other overuse injuries, but if you have even a slight abnormality (for example: very slightly bowed legs), you are at an increased risk. This article will help you prevent it – and if you do have it, you’ll be able to diagnose and treat it.
What Is an IT Band Strain?
Technically called the iliotibial band, the IT band runs vertically from your pelvis to your knees, on the outside of your thigh. An IT band strain is a common overuse injury. It can become strained or inflamed when you increase your mileage too quickly.
How Do You Get It?
- Overuse. Like most running injuries, overuse is the main cause. It’s not an exclusive injury to runners, but it does happen more to runners than to other athletes.
- Muscle Imbalance. Weak hip muscles are a common cause of ITBS (Interestingly enough, weak hip muscles also make proper form very difficult to achieve for some runners…hmmmm…).
- Body Structure. Runners who have high or low arches, uneven leg lengths, and bow legs are very susceptible to ITBS. Good form is especially important if you fall into one of these categories.
- Surfaces. Do you always run on the left side of the road? Running on exactly the same uneven surface turns your foot just slightly inward. It causes a constant stretching of the band.
IT band pain is usually felt around the knee. Usually, it feels like you “tweaked” your knee, only for you to realize that your knee isn’t really what’s bothering you. As it worsens, you’ll feel a sharp pain on the top or outside part of your knee. Over time, if left untreated, the area experiencing pain will continue to grow, running along the band moving toward your hip. The pain is usually the worst at the foot strike and may persist after your run is completed for a time.
IT band strains can heal on their own with rest and stretching. However, most runners who’ve never experienced it either don’t know what the injury is, or don’t know how to treat it. Therefore, you should see a doctor who can get you to a physical therapist, who will teach you to treat the injury and possibly provide some ultrasound or electrical stimulation.
- Rest. You need to rest your legs as much as possible, as this is a rather severe strain.
- Stretching. A routine stretching out your legs (all the muscles) will help.
- Foam Roller. A foam roller really helps target your IT band and loosen it. This can be extremely painful depending on how high your pain tolerance is, but it does help a lot.
- Physical Therapy. A physical therapist will teach you specific stretches that target the IT band. They can also provide the stimulation and/or ultrasound.
- OTC Medicines. Take an OTC anti-inflammatory medicine. It will reduce swelling.
- Taping. Taping or wrapping your knee is a specific manner will support and stabilize your knee. However, it won’t heal the injury, just make it more tolerable. If you don’t have a coach, this is something a physical therapist will need to show you.
Here’s how to prevent an IT band strain:
- Learn proper running form. Proper running form can help you avoid overuse injuries like this.
- Vary your terrain. Most people have a route or two they like to follow. It’s extremely important to vary it. It could be as simple as running the other direction on the same road/sidewalk/track/trail. If you run on the same banked surface every day, you’re likely to hurt yourself.
- Increase your training slowly. I know you’re tough and can bust out 20 miles at the drop of a hat, but using caution and an intelligent training plan is better than sitting out because you’re hurt.
- Warm up before you run – cool down and stretch afterwards. Warm up before your run to loosen up. Cooling down and stretching afterward will improve your flexibility and reduce your recovery time, making you less likely to get suffer an overuse injury.
This is a post in a series of articles about common running injuries. These articles are purposely broad and intended for your education. Do not use this information as a substitute for doctor’s advice or a professional medical opinion. To see the entire series, click here.