What You Need To Know About Iliotibial Band Injuries
ITB – iliotibial band – injuries are painful and frustrating. Here’s what to do to avoid, mend and rehabilitate runners’ ITB injuries.
No runner wants to get injured. But iliotibial band pain or iliotibial band injury is amongst the most feared – and least understood – of all running injuries.
What Is The Iliotibial Band?
The iliotibial band – or IT band for short – is a long flat stretch of thick fascia which connects the hip muscles and the knee joint. It runs from the top of the hip, down the outside of the thigh, crosses at the knee and inserts at the top of the tibia bone. As you can imagine, this makes it very important to runners… and very prone to injury and tightness. The IT band’s main function is to stabilise the knee joint every time our feet hit the ground. Because the IT band is so thick, and put under such strain when we run, it can often be painful, sore or injured.
How And Why Do We Get ITB Pain?
The most common IT band pain runners experience is just above the knee or on the outside of the knee, where the IT band passes across. But you could feel soreness, tightness or tenderness of this thick, long connective tissue anywhere along its length, even right up into the hip. IT band injuries can affect new runners, elite runners and even professional runners. Men and women are both equally prone to iliotibial band problems. Usually (but not always), IT band pain will flare up midway into a run, and is commonly felt when you’re running downhill (due to the extra strain on the hip and knee joints).
Best Ways For Runners To Prevent ITB Injury
There’s plenty you can do to prevent or at least minimise IT band problems. Make sure your running shoes aren’t too old, haven’t lost their cushioning, and aren’t showing signs of wear and tear. Don’t suddenly up your mileage, instead progress slowly and take deload weeks as needed. If you run on cambered road surfaces, try not to always run the same stretch in the same direction. Switch things up so your body isn’t always subjected to the same stresses. If you run track, be aware that tight turns could aggravate IT band problems.
IT band problems are largely a biomechanics issue. If you keep getting IT band injuries, something isn’t quite right in your posture, your stride, your running technique or in the way your hips and glutes protect your leg musculature. So you should also do plenty of hip, glute and abductor strengthening work to give your IT band and knee joints a helping hand. Keeping the abductor muscles of the legs and hips strong will stop your hip adducting and knee rotating inwards, and will keep everything in alignment, preventing excess strain on the IT band.
Exercises And Solutions To Ease IT Band Pain
Try these simple, gentle bodyweight exercises to strengthen around the IT band:
– Unweighted glute bridges
– Lying hip abduction
– Hip crossover stretch (standing)
– Hip hike (standing)
And stretch the glutes and TFL (Tensor Fascia Latae) muscle of the outer hip to ease the area around the IT band. There’s not much point trying to stretch the ITB itself since it’s so thick and inflexible. It’s not really designed to stretch like a muscle does. So stretch the areas it attaches onto and the muscles which support it, instead.
Foam rolling can be useful, if your IT band pain isn’t too severe. Rolling your actual IT band can be excruciating (as you’ll know if you’ve ever done it!) so, again, concentrate on the surrounding and supporting areas: the glutes, quads, hamstrings and calves.
You could also try icing your sore IT band. This will give some relief and help bring down inflammation.
Once you’re back to running after IT band injury, remember to warm up well, not push through any pain, and increase your mileage gradually. And keep addressing those biomechanical imbalances by doing your hip and glute strengthening work. It might seem boring but it’s the best way to avoid future IT band pain!