If you've ever suffered IT Band Syndrome, you know it can literally stop you in your tracks. This painful tightening along the outside of the thigh and/or knee is one of the most common running injuries, but you don't have to suffer from it. By practicing just a few Chi Running Focuses, you can eliminate IT Band Syndrome from your running life.
What is your IT Band?
The Iliotibial Band is a thick, fibrous band running along the outside of the leg from the hip (ilium) to the shin bone (tibia) just below the kneecap. In the hip area, a muscle joins the two ends of the band together (the tensor fascia latae, or TFL). The IT Band's job is to hold the upper and lower parts of your leg stable when your knee bends. Specifically, it works with the muscles on the inside of your thigh to
keep your knee from collapsing inward on every step.
What is IT Band Syndrome?
IT Band Syndrome is a repetitive-use injury that occurs when the band tightens up. Each step can pull it tighter across the bones of the knee joint and rub the outer part of the knee. This rubbing results in inflammation and pain, usually around the outside of the knee, though you may not see swelling. Even if you don't experience knee pain, the band may be tender along the outside of your thigh. Some people experience pain in the upper part of the IT Band, where it connects to the TFL. Often, the pain may not appear until you are a mile or two into your workout and may intensify as you continue or when running downhill.
Most commonly, IT band soreness occurs in runners whose have lateral pelvic movement. (An exaggeration of this motion would be a model walking down a runway.) Swaying your pelvis side-to-side will tighten your IT Band because, as your foot lands under you, your hips also move side-to-side.
Running with your feet splayed outward can also trigger IT Band Syndrome. As your heel strikes the ground, this causes the foot to pronate, or roll inward excessively, making the IT band work harder to control the inward motion. Landing on your heel out in front of your body, especially when running downhill, also increases sideways hip movement. Repeatedly running the same direction on a track, running primarily on a side-sloped road, and ramping up your mileage too quickly are other contributing factors.
Prevent Pain With Proper Technique
Level your pelvis. Stand with your feet under your hips and be sure your feet are pointed straight ahead. Slightly lift the front part of your hips (pubic bone) with your lower abdominal muscles. Imagine your pelvis as a bowl of water that you want to keep from spilling. Walk forward holding your pelvis stable, and notice that your hips don't move laterally with each step and that your knees don't collapse inward. Just a little core engagement is all you need; don't overdo it.
Rotate your pelvis. Once your pelvis is level, allow it to rotate around an imaginary vertical axis running through its center. In other words, every time your leg swings to the rear, let it pull your hip to the rear along with it. Your entire lower body then swings in the direction of your rear leg while your upper body remains facing forward. This keeps your stride long and fluid while stabilizing your hips.
Don't pound down hills. Find a very gentle hill to run down. Leaning forward as you head down the hill, sense what it takes to keep your pelvis level now that your body is tilted down the hill. Let your heels come up behind you by bending your knees, and let your pelvis rotate to lengthen your stride and absorb shock.
Don't heel strike. Make sure your feet land midfoot under your center of mass to prevent your IT Band from overworking.
Shorten your runs during recovery. Practice these Chi Running Focuses as you rehab your IT Band injury, paying particular attention to which ones resolve the pain and to better your technique overall.
For Extreme Pain
If your IT Band area is so sore that every step hurts no matter what, ice the inflamed, painful area and massage the rest of the tight band area with a foam roller.
Lie on your side with the outside of the affected leg on a foam roller about halfway down the thigh. Roll up and down until you find a sore spot, then stop and rest on that spot until the pain reduces by 75 percent - it takes a few seconds. Remember to breathe. Move to the next tight spot and repeat. Do this on both sides, even if you don't have IT Band Syndrome in both legs.
On the bright side (yes, there is actually a "bright side"), IT Band Syndrome is an instant feedback injury, which means as soon as we eliminate the conditions that cause inflammation and rubbing, the band rewards us with no pain. Listen to your body as you apply these Chi Running Focuses, and your IT Band problems will be left in the dust.
Stay healthy and try these tips at your next race.