by Jason Heavey in Health + Nutrition

How I tamed the IT Band monster

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Read the first part …I FELT I had tried everything to get rid of my inflamed IT Band. The physio did his best but the ultrasound sessions didn’t seem to have any effect. I’ve since been reliably informed that ultrasound is considered to be fairly useless in treating a dodgy IT Band. I then turned detective and hunted down every morsel of advice and information I could find on the internet. Stretching seemed to be the mantra. But there was one problem – the IT Band is very, very difficult to stretch.

The foam roller?

The exercises were tricky and after a couple of weeks and a few abortive runs, I felt they were becoming futile. 

Then came the foam roller. I had read good things about this device, which is used frequently by physios to aid all manner of conditions, including back pain. The idea was I should roll the outside of my left leg from my hip to below the knee, thus trying to stretch the IT Band and making it more flexible so it would stop rubbing on my knee joint. So I was excitedly optimistic when my roller arrived in the post. The first few days of rolling were excruciating. You were supposed to pause when you felt a knot in the leg and hold it for about 10 seconds to work out any stiffness.

This was pure torture, but the roller did get easier to use after a few days. Again, I wasn’t sure whether it helped my condition, and my fears were confirmed when I tried a short run and the IT Band started grumbling after about a mile.

So what next? The Patt Strap?

I was reaching the end of my tether. It was now more than three months since I had completed my last run and I was climbing the walls with frustration. 

I then pinned my hopes in another possible cure that I had come across on the internet. The Patt Strap fascinated me. I had read countless case studies extolling its virtues. The strap is worn just above the knee and claimed to offer a revolutionary cure for IT Band issues. On my first jog wearing the Patt Strap I was encouraged as I managed a mile and a half without any pain. But two days later the pain returned during another gentle jog.

So, what to do? Chi Running!

There was one other thing left to try. It had caught my attention on the web but I’d dismissed it as sounding too much of a fad. But I was so desperate that I’d revisited it. Physios and friends had told me that conventional heel strike running puts an immense amount of strain on the knee. So, I was more than a bit curious to read about midfoot, or Chi running. This claimed to remove a huge amount of pressure off the knee by landing on the middle of the foot, making sure the heel didn’t hit the ground. The Chi aspects are explained more fully in Danny Drever’s excellent book Chi Running: A Revolutionary Approach To Effortless and Injury-Free Running. But I was mainly concerned with the midfoot strike and the possibility of being able to run without IT Band pain.

So I started the drills to practise the posture. It involves a slight lean forward from the ankles (the idea is that gravity pulls you along), with your midfoot hitting the ground behind the line of your shoulders. I started jogging around the garden. It wasn’t easy grasping the technique at first, but the drills did help. So after a few days, I set out to jog a couple of miles. Voila! No pain! This looked good. Two days later… again no pain. It was taking huge concentration to land on the midfoot and not lapse to a heel-strike when I was tired, but the effort was worthwhile.

I edged up my distance over the next few weeks and I’m now running more than 20 miles a week pain-free. I’ve entered a half marathon in seven weeks. And all thanks to a minor adjustment in how my foot hits the floor. The IT Band hasn’t bothered me for two months. It may decide to return of course, but somehow I’m confident that if I maintain my midfoot strike and Chi posture, the running world is my oyster…

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