Every serious runner dreads hearing that hip or knee pain requires a long break from running to improve. Iliotibial band syndrome (ITBS) is one of several causes of athletic knee pain, loosely referred to as runner’s knee.
The IT band or tract is a band of connective tissue that runs from your hip down the outside of your thigh to just below your knee. During running and other knee-bending activities, the IT band stabilizes your hip and knee. Repeated rubbing of the band over the femur’s upper edge just below the knee thickens the lower end of the band, producing inflammation and pain.
You can reduce the risk of developing ITBS by stretching before running and practicing adequate warm-ups and cool-downs.
If it’s too late for you to avoid the condition, anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen and naproxen can reduce the inflammation and the pain. Massage, even self-massage, and stretches help the IT band relax and ease your discomfort. Here are four effective techniques:
1. To relax the client’s IT band when I am giving a massage, I hold the knee with one hand while I place the palm of the other hand flat against the outer leg just above the knee. My hand glides slowly up the outer thigh. I repeat this slow glide several times with increasingly deep pressure. Often the IT band has a trigger point or a spot that is tender almost halfway up, which I press with my thumb or a massage tool for several seconds to encourage it to relax.
2. Many runners use a foam roller, which you can buy for less than $20 in a running store or online, for self-massage. Lie on the floor with your injured thigh across the roller and use your arms to roll yourself across the roller, avoiding the bones of knee and hip, for one minute. Rest for a minute, and repeat three times. If the pressure is too intense, reduce the weight on the injured thigh by placing the opposite foot on the floor.
3. The only equipment necessary for another self-massage technique is an armless chair, such as a kitchen chair, on which to sit. To work on your right IT band, place the palms of your hands on both sides of your right knee. Keep your left hand parallel to your right to stabilize your knee throughout the massage.
First rub briskly from the knee up to your hip to warm up the tissue, repeating three times.
Second, place the palm of your right hand flat against your knee and glide the hand slowly up to your hip. A small amount of body lotion or oil on your hand will improve the glide. Repeat five times, increasing the pressure of your hand against your thigh.
Third, make a fist with your right hand and repeat the slow gliding motion from knee to hip with your fist five times, pressing deeply, still keeping the left hand parallel to the right. If you find a tender point along the IT band as you do this, pause, apply pressure at the point, and hold for 10 seconds. Then continue dragging your fist up to your hip.
Fourth, dig the knuckles of your fist to dig into the IT band just above the knee and wiggle your fist. Repeat up to your hip.
Conclude by repeating the brisk rub that started the self-massage, then repeat the full routine on the left leg. Practice this self-massage at least a few times a week.
Are any of these techniques comfortable? Probably not. Are they effective? Oh, yeah.
YouTube has many videos on self-massage, foam rollers and stretches for ITBS relief. Search for “self-massage IT” to find additional techniques that work for you.