Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The IT Band and You

I tried to title this post like a pamphlet you'd find in a doctor's office. 

You better put on your hard hats, because I'm about to drop some knowledge on you.

Let's back up: I have two old running injuries that like to surface at the beginning of my training season: a pulled hamstring (left leg) and a tight IT Band (right leg).  I think the IT Band is the original injury and perhaps the pulled hamstring is the result of compensation.  I do not know.  Although I am diligent about strength training, stretching, foam rolling the area, et cetera, these injuries still pop up.

Yesterday I got on the treadmill and ran for 35 minutes per my training plan.  Lately I've had amazing endurance which has been a plus, but that damn IT Band is a little bothersome.  After my run, I ran to the hot tub and got in for a few minutes and then ran to the spa for a massage (yes, my gym has a spa in it and kicks your gym's ass). 

My masseuse started working on my problem areas and I was asking her what I else I can do to help the situation as I can't afford to see her every day.  This is what she said:

You are better off treating the muscles around the IT Band than treating the IT Band itself

The IT Band, is a band (obviously) of tissue/fascia that needs proper oxygen, blood flow, and support.  If your quads, hamstrings, and other leg muscles are tight and/or imbalanced, you're going to suffer from IT Band Syndrome.  Sure you can take some days off or even weeks off, but if you still have muscle imbalances, then you're going to be disappointed when you get the road again and see that your IT Band still bothers you. 

It's like this: your IT Band is a car and your muscles are the oil and the gas.  Let's say your car stops running because you're out of gas and you forgot to change the oil.  You figure that you'll let the car sit for a few weeks and then maybe try to drive it again.  Obviously, unless you do something about your fluids, you're still not going to get anywhere.

So what do we do?

1. Strengthen. You can find an endless amount of strengthening exercises online to target your leg muscles.  Personally, I use weight machines, do exercises like squats and lunges, and use tools like exercise balls and stretchy bands in my strengthening routine. I do my weight routine before I run. 

2. Warm up.  Do dynamic warm up exercises before you run: lunges, jumping jacks, butt kicks, high knees, et cetera.  I like to do some dynamic warm up exercises and then walk for 2 to 5 minutes.

3. Stretch.  Do multiple sets of stretches post-workout and hold each stretch for longer than a few seconds, you slacker.  Surrender to the stretch!

4. Apply warmth.  Put a heating pad on your muscles, not your IT Band, to soothe and loosen them. 

5. Roll.  Use a foam roller on your quads, hamstrings, piriformis (butt), glutes, et cetera. 

After talking with my masseuse last night I felt confident that I will be able to handle my IT Band better now that I know to target the muscles and not the Band itself.  I hope you've learned something from this post!


  1. Thanks for the info! Its a wake up call, especially since I have an ambitious year planned!

  2. I struggled with IT Band half of last year. It really was a huge bummer. I started cycling and it seemed to help strengthen the other muscles around it. I think she's right. :)