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In the first of our Runner’s Series of articles and videos, today we’re discussing one of the most common injuries that runners can suffer with: Illiotibial Band Syndrome (also known as ITBS or IT Band Syndrome). We’re coming up to the New Year when a lot of people take on a new challenge or resolution. If you’re embarking on a new training regime, whether you’re just trying to lose a bit of weight after Christmas indulgence, you’re participating in a Couch to 5K or a you have a Spring Marathon planned, ITBS can stop you in your tracks so it’s important to know how you can avoid it, or how to treat it if you already have it.

ITBS is certainly a common running injury we see and deal with a the clinic, as it can be more challenging to handle on your own. Your IT band is a fibrous tissue that runs along the side of your leg, connecting from your hip to your knee. If you’re experiencing pain from ITBS, this will most commonly reside on the outer side of your knee, and it can feel like it’s quite deep. 

What is IT Band Syndrome?

It’s an overuse injury so it can occur from repeatedly working the same muscles and absorbing shock. When the muscles essentially pull tightly on the IT band, it can become very tight and cause you that pain. It can affect runners of all abilities, from the experienced to the new runner. When you run you are working the muscles between your hips and knees tremendously, they take a huge amount of impact from shock in order to propel you forward in your running activity. As a result, the IT band can get tighten and become sore extremely quickly. If you’re a competitive runner, you’re shooting for a PR or you’re training for a specific time, ITBS can cause pain that may impact your running times dramatically.

How Can I Avoid IT Band Syndrome?

ITBS can be especially prevalent in people who also work in a desk job, particularly if you run in the morning or you run-commute to work. If you run before going to work, and then spend a number of hours sat at a desk, the muscle can tighten up while you’re inactive, pulling on the IT band creating that pain on the side of your knee. If you’re a new runner, it’s important to gradually ease yourself into the sport in order to avoid developing injuries, especially overuse injuries such as ITBS.

Couch to 5K programmes are fantastic for easing you into the sport at the right speed, while providing guidance from a professional the whole time. If you’re following a programme you have found online, it’s important to not suddenly jump one that has you immediately running 4-5 times a week. Although it’s quite normal for your cardiovascular system to adapt relatively quickly to exercise, your muscular system can take much longer to adapt to these stresses, meaning it can be easy to think you can run further or for longer when your body isn’t yet ready. It’s also important to cross-train with other forms of exercise alongside your running to strengthen your body and prevent overuse injuries.

Combining running with strength training can be a good choice, as it can support your running form and posture by strengthening your back, core and legs. If strength training is not for you, you may find yoga, swimming or the elliptical machine to be good alternatives and provide variety in the muscles you’re working. If you’re currently rehabilitating a case of ITBS, you may find the elliptical machine to be a low-impact alternative to maintain your cardiovascular fitness if you’re struggling to run.

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Treatment for IT Band Syndrome

One of the most common pieces of advice on the internet for ITBS is to foam roll the area to relieve the tension. Although foam rolling can help significantly with your recovery times after running, if you find it too painful, you may find it beneficial to work on the side of the hips with a foam roller. If you don’t have a foam roller, you could try putting a tennis or cricket ball in a sock and using that to massage the area.

Should the pain prove to be more stubborn and you’re finding it difficult to relieve the pain, it may be best to visit a professional for an assessment. Visiting your local osteopath, chiropractor, or a physiotherapist, who will be able to assess your condition and provide a more concentrated treatment. At The Mayfair Clinic, we focus on a more computerised approach as opposed to manual therapy, that may involve laser treatment or vibration therapy. Vibration can be effective for loosening the muscles, especially if they’re tight in the area around the IT band. Laser therapy can also be a soothing therapy, applying a warm sensation while targeting the area at a cellular level to encourage the growth of new blood vessels, bringing down inflammation and helping the area to heal more completely. Helping to support the healing of the area, while preventing the development of scar tissue in an area, will help improve your performance while running and also make sure the injury is completely healed.

So if you’re currently suffering from ITBS and struggling to rehabilitate the problem yourself, we hope this guide has been useful for you so you can get back to running injury-free. If you’re planning on embarking on a training plan in the New Year, taking your training slow, cross-training and looking out for the symptoms of ITBS will help you to run stronger with a reduced risk of injury in the long-term.