Treat and Beat that Annoying Injury
“You can overcome anything if you don’t belly ache.” — Bernard M. Baruch
There’s nothing worse than in injured athlete or exercise enthusiast. Suffering waves of depression, they are overcome with thoughts of “losing” fitness.
They obsess over what they eat, and the potential for weight gain haunts them until they can return to the regular activity, not to mention the price their spouse or significant other pays. I’ve been there myself, and my husband has been the one to pay the price for my forced rest from injury.
One injury I see most often in athletes and serious exercisers is Iliotibial Band (ITB) Syndrome. Some of the symptoms of ITB syndrome are pain or dull ached on the outside of the knee while running (particularly on hills), cycling, and walking up or down stairs. I’ve seen athletes suffer both mildly and severely from this condition, either exercising their way through pain and recovery or being completely sidelined and frustrated.
If you have this injury it is important to understand the dynamics of the IT muscle and how it relates to overall biomechanics and balance. The tensor fascia lata (TFL) originates at the hip, then travels south inserting into the IT band running down the outside part of the thigh and inserts just below the knee. This muscle (TFL and ITB, they are one in the same) is responsible for three actions: moving the leg away from the midline of the body, extending the knee, and turning the leg. The TFL also plays an important role in stabilizing the hip and knee while you are standing, walking, and/or running.
As many of you have probably experienced, when muscles get tight they tent to pull and become irritated at their point of insertion, which can lead to inflammation and tendonitis. With TFL/IT band tightness, the tendon can sometimes pull the knee out of alignment; it then rubs against the knee causing inflammation.
Most causes of IT band tightness are overuse or overload, muscle weakness in the hips or low back, poor compensated biomechanics, leg length discrepancy, wide hips in women, over-pronation of the ankles (feet rotate too far inward), wearing incorrect or worn out shoes and excessive downhill running. The TFL/ITB is an important stabilizer of the entire leg and hip. Any additional fatigue or stress can lessen the ability for those muscles to do their job, which can set you up for knee, hip or low-back injury.
What are some things you can do to prevent or recover from ITB syndrome?
If you are a runner or walker, think of your gait and pay attention when you walk or run. What happens to your hips, knees and feet? Do you experience pain? Do you feel weak or imbalanced? Do you walk or run with your feet or toes pointed out like a duck or pointed in like a pigeon? Understanding your overall biomechanics is key to understanding why you might be experiencing pain in your knee, hips or low back.
If you run or walk, pay attention to your terrain. Do you run or walk on concrete, asphalt, or dirt? Concrete is much harder than asphalt and causes more force on your body; running on dirt is much gentler. It’s been estimated that your leg hits the ground 90 times per minute and 22,000 times total during a marathon.Yikes!!! That’s a lot of force on your body and a lot of work for your muscles to stabilize and prevent injury.
Do you walk or run on uneven surfaces? Some people consistently run on the same side of a road, but because the roads are crowned on one side, running on one side of the road is detrimental. Make sure to turn around and run the opposite way or eliminate the road altogether and run on dirt or a treadmill.
Proper footwear is always a must! Your local athletic footwear store should be able to help you find the right shoe based on your running terrain, biomechanics, and sizing.
For cyclist, make sure your bike fits you properly. Check with your local bike shop to help you with a proper bike fit.
Whether you suffer from ITB Syndrome or not, everyone should focus on strength, balance and flexibility. The three go together; anytime you sacrifice one for the other, you sacrifice your results and risk injury.
A proper active stretching program is most effective in the recovery phase along with independent muscle and balance exercises. Other practices that have proven effective are chiropractic, massage therapy, and acupuncture.
The key elements to better living and speedy recovery are a positive mental attitude and a willingness to become proactive in your recovery.