I have injured my IT band twice now. The first time occurred on my right side during my training for my first marathon. The second time was on my left side when running Santa the Sea Half Marathon in December of 2012. Injuring the IT band is called iliotibial band syndrome (ITBS). It’s usually due to over training. In my case, it was probably due to a combination of overtraining and muscle imbalance. If you have pain on the outside of your knee, the usual suspect is ITBS.
The time it takes for ITBS to heal depends on how badly it is inflamed. On my right side it took over three months. When it occurred the second time on my left side, I had it well under control in five weeks. The first time I didn’t know what it was and tried to train through it and then being so close to my marathon, I decided to run through it. Very bad idea! Mine was so badly inflamed, that walking was painful and I ended up in physical therapy for several months.
|Image from crossfitsouthbay.com|
When ITBS occurred the second time, I knew exactly what it was and how to handle it. The moment you suspect ITBS, STOP RUNNING! If you catch it early enough, you may only loose a week of running. With the second occurrence, the moment I identified the pain, I stopped running for a full week. The inflammation went down and I was pain free. I was able to start easy slow interval runs within seven days of the initial injury. Listen to your body, don’t ever run through the pain. If it still hurts after a week, you need to take more time off. If you push through it, you will only make it worse.
The most important thing to do when you have ITBS is foam roll and stretch, stretch, stretch. The IT band will become extremely tight and the only way to get it healthy is to get it to loosen up. I was stretching and foam rolling several times a day while injured. I’ve now integrated it into my daily routine. I also extensively stretch the IT band before and after every single run.
It is possible to train through this injury as soon as the inflammation goes down, but you will have to drastically back off the mileage and the speed. I did intervals of four minutes running and one minute walking at a comfortable pace. You will need to find what intervals are comfortable for you and what distance you can run pain free. I could only run a mile and a half before I started getting warning pains. If I went further than that, the IT band would get irritated again. The second you feel any twinges from the IT band, stop your run. As your body slowly heals, you will be able to increase your distance and your intervals. Always listen to your body. You will have to be extremely patient. All it takes is pushing it too hard one time and you will be back to square one.
This video demonstrates my favorite IT band stretch:
During my injury, I was able to stationary biking as a substitute for some of the running I was missing. Some people have had success swimming with ITBS, but I did not. In my case, swimming only made it more inflamed. Visit your doctor to conform that it is ITBS and if possible, visit a physical therapist to identify why it occurred so you can prevent it from occurring again. I got lazy on the exercises my physical therapist gave me and I believe that is why mine reoccurred. As usual, I’m not a doctor, this is all just advice!