Beating IT Band Pain

I have a love-hate relationship with the IT band.  It was my first injury as a runner.  As a high school freshman, I had to stop and walk on several runs because the pain on the outside of my knee was so bad. On one occasion it hurt too much to walk.  Fortunately, this brought me to see a chiropractor for the first time, and here we are! 

First thing's first, what is the IT band?  It's a super thick band of fascia that runs from the hip to the knee.  IT stands for iliotibial.  The 'ilio' part comes from 'ilium,' which is the bone that forms the rim in your pelvis.  'Tibial' comes from tibia, which is your shin bone.  The IT band originates from 3 muscles on your ilum (gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and TFL) and makes its way down across your knee to your tibia.  Classic IT band syndrome involves pain on the outside of the knee and sometimes up into the outside of the thigh made worse by running.  

The term 'IT band' is often demonized by runners because of the pain it can cause.  Believe it or not, the IT band actually serves a purpose. It helps stabilize your hip and leg when you move and even keeps your femur from bending!  Yes, the strongest bone in your body would bend if it weren't for your IT band.  

The IT band is very tough.  In fact, its strength has been likened to that of Kevlar, the material used in bullet proof vests.  Scientists have found that when stretched to maximal force the IT band only lengthens 0.2%.  Whomp whomp.  As runners, our first inclination is to stretch or foam roll anything that is hurting.  With the IT band, our time could be better spent.  

When working through ITBS, shift your focus from the Kevlar-like IT band to the more responsive muscles in the hip that connect to it.  If you have ITBS, you are likely to find tender areas in the hip muscles on the side of discomfort. Use a lacrosse ball ( or the Super Nova I'm using in the video) to roll them out, and pause on the tender spots until the tenderness calms down.  

I am not saying foam rolling the IT band is pointless.  It may improve blood flow to the area and can even help relieve some local discomfort.  But keep in mind you are not actually lengthening the tissue, so a few minutes spent on the foam is probably plenty.  

Your core muscles and the hip muscles that attach to your IT band, help stabilize the body from excessive side-to-side movement when running.  When these muscles aren't doing their job it puts stress on the IT band.  This stress is usually felt as pain around the knee.  Take care of the tender muscles as described above, but it's just as important to stabilize the system.  Great stability drill videos can be found on previous blog posts, 4 Drills to Rehab Your Running and 6 Exercises to Bullet Proof Your Running. 

Source: Michaud, Thomas.  Injury-Free Running; How to Build Strength, Improve Form, and Treat/Prevent Injuries