I have dealt with ITBS (Iliotibial band syndrome) since I ran my first half marathon in 2005. I did it to myself. I know it’s my fault I have ITBS. It probably could have been prevented if I wasn’t so hard headed. ITBS is very painful and only gets worse when you try to run through the pain. It can bring you to tears. What’s worse is when you really want to run and every step is painful, like a knife is stuck in your knee. Nothing is broke, it doesn’t bleed, and you can’t see what’s hurting or why it’s hurting. It doesn’t look like it should hurt so why does it hurt when I want to run!
I am definitely no expert but I have read a lot about the Iliotibial band and have seen Drs and been to PT since 2005. The Iliotibal band runs along the outside of your leg basically from the hip to just past the knee. The pain is usually located at the outside of the knee but can sometimes develop at the hip. My pain is at the knee(s). From my understanding the pain comes when the ITB rubs across the (inflamed) bursa at the knee. This is why it doesn’t hurt when you first start running but slowly becomes inflamed and the pain becomes worse the more the ITB rubs back and forth over the bursa. For me, when my ITB is aggravated, I can make it hurt by bending my knee slightly and leaning forward as if I am in a slow motion run or pushing off with the back leg. Going down stairs or down a hill is painful as well. I have learned to try and not bend my knee past a certain point when it is inflamed.
So back to how I was blessed with ITBS.. My sister had run her first marathon and I was told I couldn’t ever run that far. Wrong thing to say to me. I have always been active and ran occasionally but never consistently so I decided to run the Houston half marathon to prove people wrong. I ran “consistently” for about a week prior to the half and finished right at 2 hours. After that I had this ache in the outside of my knee but I had just run 13.1 miles so I figured it was supposed to hurt. I ran a few 5ks and one 10k that summer and signed up for the San Antonio Marathon in Nov. Again I didn’t really train and ran it with my sister finishing in 5:21. My knee was starting to feel a lot worse but I ignored it and ran the next Houston Marathon (Jan 06) with my sister again. Finished in 4:54.. After this I wanted to actually start running and training for other races but my knee was killing me. I finally went to the Dr and he told me I had developed ITBS. Obviously from running too many miles without training. I had a cortisone shot and was sent on my way. I was also prescribed a z-pack later that year. That summer I ran a few short races and signed up for SA and Houston Marathon. I bought an ITB strap to help with the pain while running. I trained a little bit more that year and finished SA in 4:13:09 with my ITB killing me. Ran Houston that next January and had to walk most of the last 6 miles finishing in 4:49… This is when it hit me that ITBS SUCKS and you really can’t run through the pain and just deal with it like my Dr. said (yeah, he actually told me to just push through it,, he also thought I was an idiot for running that far). That was my last marathon (Jan 07). I ended up with ITBS in BOTH knees.
That year I went back to my ortho and he sent me to PT. I couldn’t touch my toes the first day of PT and by the time I left I was able to fully grab them. PT consisted of stretching, weights, ice, massage and ultrasound. I started using biofreeze (like icy hot) on my runs and always stretched and iced after each run. Stretching included rolling on a foam roller. (now I have a foam roller, TP Quadballer/roller, The Stick, and I use my Indo Board roller because it is made of hard plastic and doesn’t give at all. I got used to the foam). The PT thought the problem was from an imbalance in my hips/glutes and that I needed to strengthen my legs and core along with tons of stretching. This is one reason I like the weight room. I truly feel that strengthening my legs helps with my ITB. But I also make sure I stretch a lot. I have read that the ITB itself cannot be stretched but for some reason it feels a lot better getting a good stretch on the outside of my leg. My favorite stretch is sitting down with one leg straight out in front, the other crossed over with my foot on the ground beside my knee. Then I try to touch my toes and get a good stretch on the outside of my leg. (hopefully this makes sense). During therapy I had stopped running and took a few weeks off. I would swim and ride during this time to maintain my fitness. Sometimes riding aggravates it too but not near as bad as running. I slowly started back to running and always made myself stop when just a little bit of pain started. I made sure I didn’t run on any cambered roads and if I ran at the track I would change direction every 2 laps. The ITB strap would help me finish some longer runs. I would carry it with me and if I started to feel pain I would strap it on. It seemed to help but definitely didn’t cure the problem. I was starting to get control of it and then I had my bicycle wreck and had a mandatory 3 months of no running. I guess a good thing about breaking my neck and shoulder is my ITB got some needed rest.
I still deal with ITBS. It will go away for months at a time then I will do something that aggravates it. My last big flare up was after my wedding (Oct 08).. I got too jiggy wit it on the dance floor (seriously). Then there was this last January when we were moving into our townhome with stairs. So it’s usually stupid things that aggravate it. I stretch, roll, sometimes use “the stick” and ice after EVERY run. I stretch every chance I get. I incorporate weights in my training with lots of leg press and squats. When it starts to flare up during a run I shorten my stride and try not to bend my knee as much. This works pretty good to finish out a run. I recently tried Kinesio tape / KT tape. I didn’t have great results but I plan on experimenting with it to see if any different technique or just adjusting the tape a bit works. The tape is way more comfortable than the strap so if I can get any relief with it I will use it. I am lucky enough to have an Athletic Trainer as my wife so I’m able to use her whirlpool for ice baths and sometimes use her ultrasound machine. It is possible to live with ITBS. You just have to know your limits and know when to stop or cut back your running.