What is an IT Band Injury and How do you deal with it?
I am not a Doctor but I did go through this injury myself. Everything in this post is what I learned from my experience and what I was told while rehabbing the injury.
First of all, my best advice if you are feeling pain and you know you didn’t fall/hit/run into/get run into by anything is to go to a sports therapist. They will likely know how to correctly diagnose the problem and provide you with a long term solution instead of just suggesting you stop doing whatever it is you are doing and/or telling you to take a pill.
After a lot of success training for my first half marathon in 2010, I kept running quite a bit since I still had a couple of races on the schedule through the beginning of November. But after that, work got REALLY busy and I more-or-less took two months off from running. Plus there was this slight issue with not owning any winter running gear and not wanting to run on the treadmill anymore. As 2011 neared, I had put together a pretty aggressive training plan for myself since I had intentions of doing a couple of half’s and a marathon in 2011. So the first full week of January, I was ready to go and I was excited! I would be running indoors two or three days a week and strength training on those days and then I would run outside at least two days a week.
The first day (Monday) went well, a mile run on the treadmill and strength training. The second day (Tuesday), I headed out for a 4 miler and felt a little bit of pain towards the end of my run but didn’t think anything of it. The third day was another mile run on the treadmill but I felt pain in the same spot I had the day before. Day four, a Thursday, I headed out for my 4 mile run and after a mile and a half, I started to feel pain but it wasn’t too terrible so I kept goin. By mile 2 and my turn around point, I was in a LOT of pain… Like ready to cry kind of pain.
I stopped to calm myself down and drink some water. I carefully weighed the few options I had. See, I don’t like running with my phone (I almost never do) and I do not run with my bus/train pass. I considered trying to ask someone to borrow a phone but the only phone numbers I had memorized were my parents and they live in TX which wouldn’t be helpful. There was one person that I KNEW I could call, but I just didn’t have his number memorized and he lived too far away from where I was. Even worse, I was dressed for running in cold weather but nothing else. I knew walking home I would be freezing because I had already sweat through my bottom layers and it was windy. I mean, it is January in Chicago. It was COLD. There were only two choices, walk and risk health issues (like hypothermia or pneumonia) or run and just deal with the pain. So I ran home and just dealt with the pain but with each stop light I was in tears. By the time I finally got home, I was limping and in a lot of pain. I took a shower to warm up and iced my knee hoping this was just some weird pain that would go away.
When I woke up the next morning and was still in pain, I knew I needed to take some rest days so I decided that the next 3 days for resting and icing the knee. The following Monday I made it to the gym to get in some upper body strength training, knowing that I should be putting in SOME work while resting the knee.
Finally, on Wednesday, I went out for a little tester run. In hindsight, I should have gone to the gym for this but I decided to run outside. A mile into the run and I had the exact same pain in the exact same spot. And yep, I was a mile from home with no other way to get home other than run or walk… And again, dressed for running, I had very little choice but to run home…
Here is where I started to panic…. All my plans for the year were flashing before my eyes and Google was NOT helping to settle my fears as I saw the need for surgery and months of rehab. I booked an appointment with a sports therapist and that weekend hung out with a friend. He and I chatted about what was going on with my knee and he told me that he thought it was my IT Band… HUH? What the hell is that? He explained it to me (but in all honesty, his explanation went over my head). I was still flipping out and knew that he knew I was flipping so part of me just thought he was trying to calm me down. I wanted to believe him but was also still fearing the worse (Surgery). All of which I expressed to him.
That following Monday I went to my appointment and my diagnosis, was, in fact, my IT Band. My text to my friend immediately after leaving that appointment, “I have never been so glad to have to tell you that you were right”
I was prescribed rest and physical therapy sessions. Two months later and lots of exercises, I slowly eased back into running like I had when I first started to train at the beginning of 2010.
So here is what I learned…
The IT Band is a length of tendons/tissue that connects to the outside of your knee up to your hip bone, running along the outside of your thigh. Those that have IT Band issues will generally feel the pain on the outside of the knee (like I did) or around the hip area.
The injury is generally caused by any combination of the following: Increasing mileage too quickly, Weak muscles or lack of flexibility.
Mine was caused by thinking I could stop running for two months and then pick back up with the same mileage I was running before (WRONG!) and also by some weak muscles (outside thighs and butt specifically). The number one cause for runners is increasing mileage too quickly. But there is usually another issue as well. So generally, you will work to correct the weak muscles and/or flexibility.
My flexibility has always been pretty decent so that was something that I did not need to work on at all. Instead, each physical therapy session, I performed a number of exercises and I was doing them at home too. As I progressed, I was shown the more advanced versions. When I finally eased back into running, it was just that… an ease. There were quite a few runs that were not more than a mile for quite a while.
Again, my advice is still to seek out a sports therapist.They will diagnose your specific issue as well and provide you with the correct steps for a long-term solution. Your strength/flexibility will be assessed and the areas that need the work will be the ones that they focus on while trying to get you healthy again.
I say a sports therapist over a regular physical therapist or a doctor specifically because they are aware that athlete’s do not enjoy being forced into rest. And in fact, I was told to rest only if I could not endure the pain while running… Since I had a pretty severe case, the pain was a little too much for me. But I was also told to keep the mileage low if and when I did go for a run. Note that I was NOT told to simply stop running. Plus my other experiences with doctors usually resulted in said doctor just telling me to stop doing what I was doing and/or just giving me a prescription to mask the issue but it would usually come back.
Generally speaking, if you are physically active and suddenly start to feel pain that you know is not normal then you developed some sort of injury specific to the the type of exercise you do. If you were to Google running injuries… you would likely find dozens of lists listing the most common injuries (IT Band is one of them).
Hopefully you never get injured but if you do, please at least consider my advice about going to a sports therapist.