After 11 months of running, I got hit by IT band syndrome a couple of months ago which manifests itself in a really sharp pain on the outside of the knee. At that time, I knew neither about the runner’s knee nor about the IT band syndrome. I was probably on mile 10 of my very first 16-mile run when my left knee suddenly just gave out. Landing was okay, but when the knee came up, it felt loose with a sharp pain on the outside of my knee. I grimaced with pain and found that even walking was difficult. I half walked, half jogged and mostly limped my way home pretty bummed about the injury. Just like my other running injuries, I was confident that I could figure out how to heal myself, though the fact that it was my knee was worrisome.
IT band syndrome
Iliotibial band syndrome (ITBS) is a mouthful, but turns out is a leading cause of knee pain in runners. For me, I could only attribute this to my chop-stepping downhill run on Rancho PG&E trail when I was going way too fast (and enjoying ever step of it). As I would find out later, there are better techniques for running downhill, but more on that in a different blog. The IT band is a large sheath of tissue that runs along the outside of your thighs and terminates right around your knee. After a lot of reading and researching, turns out there are two kinds of knee pain. First one is under the knee cap, also known as Patellofemoral pain syndrome. The second one is caused by the IT band. Once I could isolate the pain point, I was that much closer to figuring out how to fix it.
The IT band syndrome was one injury that took, by far, the longest to heal completely. I tried foam-rolling, icing and different stretches, but after 6 weeks decided to go to my chiropractor Dr. Rachel Frozenfar. She specializes in sports injuries and was the one to introduce me to Graston Technique. From their FAQ, “It incorporates a patented form of instrument-assisted soft tissue mobilization”. The instrument, turns out, is as simple as the blunt end of a dinner knife. Use the blunt end of the knife on the aching part and work it back and forth until you can feel the scar tissues break down. This is now a key home remedy for me for sore calves.
After two sessions of Graston, muscle stimulation (putting electrodes along the IT band, shins and running different wave patterns) and active release massages, I’m happy to report that my IT band syndrome is officially a goner! But the thing that I realized was this: I had focused so much in the first few months in lower-limb strengthening (see top 10 exercises after turning 40) that there was an imbalance in the upper legs (quads and thighs). I’ve since incorporated one-legged squats and lunges to my top 10 as a daily routine. And no more sticking wallets on to my back pockets while driving. 🙂 Simple, but effective tip to keep your body balanced. Lastly, anytime I even feel a small tinge on my IT band, I run with Pro-Tec IT band compression wrap which adds additional support. I celebrated the week I felt I was back with three 12+ mile runs and didn’t feel a thing!
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