If you’re an active person, and especially if you’re a runner, Iliotibial Band (ITB) Syndrome is one of the most common overuse injuries that can sideline you. Though many people suffer from ITB Syndrome, few understand what it is and how to treat it.
If you’ve ever had ITB Syndrome, then you know how much it can hurt, and how it feels like it’s never going to go away.
It’s one of those pains in your knee or the outside of your leg where you go out for a run or a ride, and have to limp home. Many suffer with this injury for months. It’s like a knife digging into the side of your leg or knee. The ITB is an extension of a short muscle on the side of your hip called the Tensor Fascia Lata (TFL) as well as your gluteus maximus (glute max) muscle, (that’s your behind). The ITB extends from the TFL and glut max down to the outside of your knee.
Pain occurs anywhere along the ITB, usually at the insertion (by the knee) or somewhere in the middle. You’ll have pain running, riding or walking [usually down] stairs, and anytime you try to bend your leg, especially after keeping it straight for a while.
Sometimes, even waking up in the morning will be like an ice-pick in your leg. If you’ve ever had an ITB problem, you probably went through a whole slew of treatments and still had it for 3-6 months; that is very common and no fun.
ITB Syndrome occurs typically from the following reasons:
- Often there is an actual weakness of the TFL or glute max itself. 75% of the ITB is made up of the glute max – the major muscle you use to jump, climb, squat, run, ride your bike, and even just to get out of a chair;
- A muscular imbalance between the inside and the outside of the leg;
- One or both of those muscles could have fatigued from wearing the wrong type of shoes or orthotics;
- An old injury that is still haunting you, but you don’t know it because the pain is gone, but your body has compensated;
- An insulin issue from eating too many carbohydrates creating a gait disturbance, or even from a digestive problem, (gut inflammation can inflame the ITB);
Once you notice ITB pain, the best way to get rid of it is to rest immediately. That means fewer miles, or no running at all. While you’re backing off on your mileage, you can cross-train. Swimming, pool running, cycling, and rowing are all fine. If you diagnose an ITB problem early enough treatment can be as simple as rest, massage and stretching.
Medical treatment is cortisone shots and NSAIDs (Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) for inflammation and if that doesn’t help, then surgery can be recommended to cut and release the band (in severe cases).
Other keys to treating ITB and speeding a healthy return to the track are as follows:
- Stop running. It’s simple – if it hurts to run, don’t run.
- Increase strength. Simple exercises to strengthen the glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings and core muscles can aid a speedy return to the track.
- Massage the injured area. Using a foam roller and/or a tennis ball to work out tightness in my glutes, quadriceps, ITB, hamstrings and hips.
- Better quality sleep. Most recovery and healing happens when you’re asleep. Aim for 8 or 9 hours minimum of quality, unbroken sleep.