I have been running for 16 years now, going back to my glory days on the high school track and field team. And I am pretty lucky to have a relatively short list of injuries during this time. But last fall, a weeks before running the Grand Rapids Marathon, I suddenly developed pretty sharp pain on the outside of my knee and behind my kneecap. It would always start a mile or two into my run, and if I didn’t stop (which I didn’t because I am a runner, and therefore stubborn by nature) it would continue to get more painful until I was reduced to
walking limping home. It was eventually diagnosed as illiotibial band syndrome, more commonly referred to as IT band pain.
Over the next several months, I scaled back my running which was pretty easy to do because a) I joined a gym and grew to love group exercise classes – who knew?! and b) the average temperature in West Michigan last winter was approximately three degrees (note: this is probably not true, but it sure felt that way!). While taking it easy, my IT band pain was fine, but if I ramped up my weekly mileage, I would feel some increased soreness or tenderness in the same spots. Eventually I went back to the same amazing doctor who diagnosed me, and he sent me to an equally amazing physical therapist. After doing some initial work loosening my piriformis muscles (OUCH!) he prescribed a set of exercises to be done at home with an exercise band. I did the following exercises every single day while marathon training, and I think they made all the difference! Please note, I am not a licensed medical provider of any kind, but when runners are injured, sometimes it helps to read about what worked for other runners. So if you’ve got some IT band pain (which, as I understand it, is almost always caused by the result of weak muscles somewhere else) feel free to give these a try, or as your doctor if they could work for you. In fact, it might be a good idea to have someone watch you the first time you do them just to make sure you’re performing everything correctly.
First, obtain an exercise band. Tie a knot at one end, and then stick that end inside a closed doorway. Make the other end into a loop that you can fit your foot through, and you’re all set.
Next, with one foot through the loop, stand facing the door. Begin by working on your hip extension with your foot out, then pull it back toward you, not pulling it back any further than your planted foot, hold for two seconds, and perform a controlled release (i.e. slow and steady). Do 10 to 12 reps.
Rotate 90 degrees clockwise, and repeat, this time pulling your leg into your body, working your adductors, holding for two seconds, and release. Again, do 10 to 12 reps.
Rotate 90 degrees again and repeat, this time thrusting your leg forward, keeping your knee straight (straighter than I am in this shot), working on hip flexion. Hold two seconds, and repeat 10 to 12 times once more.
Conclude by rotating another 90 degrees, now working the outside of the hip, or your adductors, with another 10 to 12 reps.
Repeat on the other leg to keep things even. I usually did this entire cycle once or twice more on each foot. Yes, it was boring, and I often had to talk myself into doing these exercises on a consistent manner, but I finally have my IT band back to 100% and I firmly believe these exercises helped me get here.