How to Recover from IT Band Syndrome

by | May 20, 2018

To treat IT Band Syndrome successfully is possible but it requires a great treatment plan… and some patience.

Unfortunately, It’s one of those injuries you can’t ignore or continue training through. You’ll need to make some changes, take a break and do some extra work. But if you do the right thing you will come out the other end a better, stronger runner.

In this article, I’ll walk you through my step-by-step plan to treat IT Band Syndrome that will get you back to pain-free running sooner.

 

Step 1: Take a Break

I don’t normally prescribe rest to runners. In fact, injured runners usually do much better when they continue (some) running. But IT Band Syndrome is different and sadly it doesn’t get better without some time off.

The pain you’re feeling comes from a fat pad sitting underneath the IT Band. This fat pad is like a balloon that swells up  when irritated. It’s extremely painful and stays inflamed as long as it keeps being irritated.

The fat pad’s job is to act as one of your body’s warning systems for potential injury. It’s there to sense danger and send very loud pain messages to the brain whenever it senses too much stress on a joint.

It’s the minor injury designed to stop you from developing a major injury.

When the fat pad is inflamed your most important job is to remove the thing that’s irritating it – in your case it’s probably running.

So, how much rest do you need?

It really depends on how long you’ve been injured. For some people, a couple of days is all it takes. Those are the lucky few. For most people, it’s more like a week or two.

If you’ve already tried rest and it hasn’t worked, try again. This time, follow all the steps in this plan before getting back to running.

 

Step 2: Use the rest time wisely  

Injury time-off is valuable. If you use it wisely it will propel your recovery and fast-track your return to running. If you waste it or rush it, it’ll set you back and make your return an uphill battle.

Let me be clear, rest is not a complete break from all exercise, just a break from running. You can maintain your cardio with cycling or swimming. And, you’ll need to do some strength training.

Before I talk about exercises I want to make a brief note on pain relief. Ice, Ibuprofen and heat/ice gels are great ways to reduce inflammation. Make sure you try each of these and find something that gives you pain relief.

If you’ve tried these and they aren’t working then you should consult with a sports doctor. They’ll be able to give you with some stronger pain-relief options that might just do the trick.

You’ll also need to foam roll daily. Foam rolling is the necessary evil that will relieve tension in the muscles around your IT Band and take away some pain.

There’s an art to foam rolling well. Check out this article explaining exactly what you need to do. 

The hard part comes next; you’ll need to start strengthening your glutes and core. One of my favourite glute exercises is this crab walk:

This is just one of many exercises you’ll need to be doing. A physiotherapist will give you a progressive, weekly strengthening plan that you can follow at home or in a gym. Need help finding a good physio? Reach out to me and I can give you some recommendations.

 

Step 3: Find your running baseline

Once the inflammation has settled down and you don’t feel pain during normal day-to-day activities, you can begin running again. But, don’t over do it…

Building up your running volume will happen gradually over a few weeks or months. It’ll be a delicate balance of running enough to re-build fitness, and not running too much to re-irritate the fat pad.

The first thing you’ll need to do is find your running baseline.

This is the distance you can run comfortably before your IT Band starts to hurt. It might be 50% of your previous distance, or it might be just 10%. But wherever it is for you right now is where you need to stop.

At this stage, it’s important to stay at or below this limit. As you continue to recover you’ll increase it and get back to your normal training, but if you push it now you’ll only set yourself back.

Continue strengthening your glutes and core. Keep working with your physio on progressing your exercises weekly so that you’re targeting all the right muscles, and gradually improving your strength!

 

Step 4: Check your form

There’s no one perfect way to run and all runners have a slightly different gait but, there are probably a few small changes you can make to be a better runner.

Anything you change must have one goal: making you a lighter, smoother runner. This is what studies consistently show to be common among un-injured runners. Run light, run pain-free.

Start by checking your cadence. This is how many steps you take per minute. Taking just a few extra steps per minute has been shown to significantly reduce the strain of each landing, and ultimately the risk of injury.

If you have a watch that measures cadence, see what your current number is and aim to increase it by 10 percent. If you aren’t using technology, try to be mindful of how many steps you’re taking and increase it just a little bit.

There are so many other technical running parameters. If you want a detailed analysis of your running technique, a running physio will be able to video you running and closer look at what you’re doing. They might identify a significant fault in your technique which is putting that extra stress on your knee.

 

Step 5: Increase your training volume

Most running injuries happen when a runner over-trains or changes something in their normal routine. So, as you’re getting back into running after an injury break be extra careful of not shocking your body with too many changes too quickly.

Be calculated with your running schedule – increase your weekly distance by only 10% each week. Stay below your point of pain and give yourself plenty of recovery time and days off.

If you notice the pain coming back or getting worse, drop back to a distance that felt comfortable and focus more of strengthening. Ramp up your distance again slowly after your pain has settled and you feel more confident.

Your strength training should be getting harder at this stage with a lot of focus on stability and control. An exercise that all running should be doing is this step up and follow through:

This exercise will target your abs and glutes, and train your pelvis to be controlled during one leg movements.

IT Band recovery can be slow and frustrating. The key is to give yourself rest when you need it, strengthen as much as possible, and gradually rebuild running into your routine.

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ABOUT ALINA KENNEDY

ABOUT ALINA KENNEDY

Alina is an Australian Physiotherapist, Strength & Conditioning Specialist and founder of Sprint Rehab. She is a keen runner and focuses her work on running rehabilitation and injury prevention.

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