By Amy McGorry
Running a marathon (or any long distance) is one tough task, and training for it is equally tough. There is a risk for a common running injury, ITB syndrome, which causes pain along the outside knee cap or the outer thigh. Runners, cyclists and anyone who plays a running sport like soccer and baseball are prone to this injury.
So what is the ITB (iliotibial band), exactly? The ITB is a thick band of connective tissue that provides stability to the knee. It runs along the outside of your thigh from your hip and inserts into the outside region of the patella (knee cap). The ITB crosses over the thigh bone, soft tissues and a small sac near the knee.
When The IT Band Is A Pain
Researchers say the IT band can get inflamed when it repeatedly rubs over the outside of the knee. Others say the ITB compresses the soft tissues and a sac that lies underneath the knee when the knee bends around 20 to 30 degrees, causing those structures to get irritated. This situation can occur when you run downhill, since the knee bends more as the heel hits the ground compared to level surfaces. Running in the same direction on a street also stresses the same area of the ITB consistently, leading to a breakdown in that region.
Why You're Sidelined
If you're running and your glutes (buttock muscles) are weak, the leg may move inward and rotate too much. This pulls at the ITB. If tightness or connective tissue restrictions are present, this tug can irritate it. Further stress can occur if the foot overpronates (rolling toward the inside of the body), which causes the leg to rotate inward. The result is more rubbing and compression of soft tissue structures around the knee. In general, any excessive internal rotation of the hip and leg can lead to ITB syndrome.
Also, if you run on a street that's pitched, your body perceives one leg to be shorter than the other. This creates a tilt at the pelvis that strains the ITB, especially on a continued basis. If you don’t rest enough between long runs or address these issues, you can create a repetitive stress scenario that can cause injury.
How To Stay In The Game
Do 2 sets of 10 reps of each of the following:
- One-Legged Squats: Half-squat slowly, keeping the knee from rolling inward or coming forward past toes.
- Side Leg Lifts: Lie on your side. Lift your top leg. Don't let leg come forward. Keep hips stacked. Hold for 3 seconds.
- Clam Shells: Lie on your side, knees and ankles together, thighs at 45 degrees and knees bent at 90 degrees. Rotate the top leg up, but don’t move your pelvis.
- Get Rolling: Lie on a roller and roll your ITB and leg muscles over the roller to break up fibrous tissue. Continue for 1 minute.
Always check with a physician prior to starting any exercise program. And remember: You may be sidelined... but not for long!