by Jason Heavey in Health + Nutrition

Curse of the IT Band

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I COULDN’T believe my luck. Three years of running and not an injury in sight. Not even a niggle. My times had got quicker and I’d just completed my first half marathon – something I never thought I would accomplish. A 10K Personal Best (PB) had been the cherry on the cake. Surely my injury-free run couldn’t continue?

I had so many targets and race plans for 2009. Optimism and enthusiasm was oozing out of every pore. I wanted to duck under two hours for a half marathon and break 50 minutes for a 10K. I had a list of local races I was going to enter. But then it struck. A routine six-mile jog (and a run I had completed dozens of times) turned out to be my last proper run for four months.

How it all started

As I ran happily through a nondescript street near my home, the pain in the outside of my left knee began to strike. It wasn’t a sharp, acute kind of pain. It was a dull ache at first but then began to get worse. This was a whole new experience for me. Remember, not even a niggle in three years.

So I persevered and completed the last mile or so in discomfort. At that point I didn’t realise that I had been struck by the curse of the IT Band, or Iliotibial Band, the tendon that runs from the hip down the outside of the leg to just below the knee. Little did I know at that point that it is a condition that affects one in eight runners.

The three-day rule: “If you have a niggle, have three days off!”

I was oblivious to what the problem was and a running friend advised me to adopt the “three-day” rule (“If you have a niggle, have three days off”). So I did, and then three days later set out optimistically on a short three-miler confident that my pain had been nothing more than a niggle.

But then it struck again and I had to stop. Stopping was something I had NEVER done. It was against my running religion. The pain in the outside of the knee vanished when I walked, but returned when I broke into a slow jog: it was as if something was rubbing on the outside of my knee.

Diagnosis?

There were three or four more abortive attempts to complete a short run over the next few weeks until I saw sense and went to see my physio.
Within minutes, he had diagnosed an inflamed IT band. I’d never heard of it. But by the end of that day I was an expert after scouring every cough and spit about the troublesome tendon that I could find on internet running forums. And, yes, there had been something rubbing on the outside of my knee. It was the IT Band, that pesky length of tendon that passes from one side of the knee to the other as the leg bends. When the IT Band becomes inflamed, it can rub on the outside of the knee, causing friction and a pain that gets steadily worse as you run.
So I rested for a month during which time I had ultrasound sessions with my physio. This was my first injury and the sheer frustration was something I’d never experienced before. I was told not to run or do anything that would aggravate the problem (Basically, this was anything that involved bending the leg). Trips to the gym to focus on upper body work left me dissatisfied and hungry for the treadmill.

So what had caused my injury?

The physio had no idea and it was clear from surfing the web that there wasn’t one main cause. It could be anything from hill running, over-use, sudden increase in mileage, poor quality shoes or just plain bad running style (biomechanics).
After six weeks’ rest, I tentatively tried a short jog, but the familiar pain returned. The physio sessions combined with rest had not worked. I was distraught. I then set out on a mission to solve the problem myself and over the next few weeks experimented with all manner of methods to try to get rid of this thing that was ruining my life (Ok, maybe that’s a little over the top, but hardened runners who have been injured will know what I mean!).

That is until I came across a solution that literally changed my life… Continue reading

Next article: How I tamed the IT Band monster…




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