Editor’s Note: Today we welcome TJ Ford as a contributing editor to Running Advice and News. TJ is a sports massage practitioner in Portland, Oregon and an avid marathon runner. She will run the Los Angeles Marathon next weekend and then the Race for the Roses in Portland in April. TJ will focus on theraputic practices, stretching, strengthening and other issues that impact you as runners in her new column “Body in Focus” that will appear her on Running Advice and News. If you have questions for her, please feel free to post them on the “Questions” page by clicking on the tab at the top right of this page.
Here’s a question that came in recently that I was asked to tackle: “I’m a new runner and I was out running this past weekend with some “veterans”. They were going on and on about their “IT Bands”. I didn’t know what they were and I was afraid to ask, but they sounded important. So what gives? What’s an IT Band and how do I keep it from hurting me?”
The IT Band, or Iliotibial band, runs from your hipbone down past your knee. Like a piece of that white packing tape with the little threads through it, the ITB is flat, wide and tough. It has to support our knee every time we take a step. But like the packing tape, it can get sticky, and when it gets ignored, it becomes dehydrated, stiff and hard and stuck to the quadriceps underneath. This can cause all sorts of problems including knee pain, hip pain, the Sudden Knee-Collapse, and the dreaded “ITB Syndrome”.
So runners need to be very kind to our IT Bands to and keep them healthy and happy.
Because the IT Band is a piece of connective tissue, we can’t really strengthen it, but we can keep it flexible and pliable with a few simple stretches. First, make sure that you’re doing a good job stretching your quadriceps muscles (on the front and sides of your thighs) as well as your gluteal (butt) muscles, since these are connected to the ITB and if they’re unhappy, then so is the ITB.
To stretch the ITB: I call this the planter’s peanut stretch (look at the guy on the peanut jar and you’ll see what I mean – see below):
Stand next to a wall with your right hand lightly on the wall (the shoulder of your running partner works well, too). Cross your left leg in front of your right leg, bring your left arm up and over your head (the top hat is optional) and gently push your left hip out to the side. Keep your left foot flat on the floor. You should feel a stretch down the outside of your thigh. This can also be done with your left leg crossed behind your right leg – try it both ways to see which one feels more effective for you. Hold the stretch for 20 to 30 seconds and repeat on the other side. This is a great stretch to do as part of your warm-up, after a run, or anytime during the day you can find a wall or a friend to lean on.
If you see a massage therapist, physical therapist or chiropractor, ask them to do what’s called myofascial (my-oh-fash-ul) release on the ITB. It feels a little like you’re being filleted, but it’s over soon and it’s worth it to walk and run without knee pain.
Have more questions about your body, let me know. Please feel free to post a comment to this page or the questions page.
TJ Ford, Portland Oregon, USA
for Running Advice and News