Marathon Training: Dealing with Iliotibial Band Syndrome

2 Jan

Iliotibial Band Syndrome

I’m aware that the title of this blog post doesn’t sound very interesting but for some people it will be all too relevant, as I discovered while I was training for the Reading Half Marathon last year.

Yesterday I was chatting to a girl who did the London Marathon in 2012, who told me she’s been unable to run more than 6k since completing it because she’d injured her Iliotibial Band (ITB) at mile 20.

Now that scared me a lot because I too have been a victim of the ITB Syndrome and DAMN it hurts. It’s like a sharp pain on the outer side of the knee – I somehow managed to get it in both knees at once – and you feel it every time you bend your leg.

My ITB Syndrome struck me down in January last year, and was so bad I had to miss the Reading Half in March. In fact, not only was running out of the question, but also walking, swimming, cycling, cross training and most particularly, walking up and down stairs. It was INCREDIBLY annoying!

To give you a very non-scientific explanation, ITB Syndrome is caused when the band which runs between your hip and knee gets too tight and pulls things out of alignment, causing the sudden stabbing pain.

In my experience, the absolute best way to heal ITB Syndrome is to go to a physio and get a really good sports massage – finding the tight, knotted bits in your thighs and having them unknotted (yes, it hurts, but it works). In fact, when my physio suddenly found the particular spot in my upper leg where all the tension lay, it was like a sudden miracle cure for the three months of knee pain I’d been enduring (that was despite many hopelessly useless trips to my GP – they are so rubbish for sports injuries!)

This time, I want to catch the problem before it even starts, as I have less than 4 months until the London Marathon and can’t afford a load of time off. My top tips for avoiding ITB Syndrome are:

Don’t ignore the pain. When my knee first started hurting on a long run, I didn’t really think it was a big deal and happily skipped out for another 5k the next day. Halfway through the 5k the pain was pretty severe, but since I only had a short way left to go I thought it would be ok just to push on home. Was that last 2k what put me out of running for the next 3 months? Quite possibly, and it’s just not worth it. Don’t ignore pain.

Build up gradually. Another reason I got myself into trouble was by thinking that after three weeks off training over Christmas, I could just go out and run exactly the same distances I had been before without any system of easing myself back into it. Increase your mileage very gradually and, if you have more than a week off, make sure you do an easy run before tackling a long’un.

Foam rollers. Or instruments of torture as you will come to know them if you have ITB Syndrome. You can buy a foam roller from a sports shop or use them at your local gym. They are literally big rolls and foam that you put on the floor, then roll the outer side of your thigh up and down them to massage the ITB. Be warned – at first you will be gurning and grimacing all over the place when you do this, so make sure you’re not in front of any of the gym hotties.

Increase your strength. Building up your leg muscles and core stability will help a lot in avoiding injury because it makes you more of a balanced runner (i.e. not Phoebe off friends-style running, with legs flailing everywhere). Go to the gym and do some leg exercises, and take a Pilates class which is great for toning up your core. Also, it’s a nice change from running.

Get a massage. I’m planning a monthly sports massage as part of my marathon training. Admittedly it’s expensive (around £50 an hour in London), but if it means you can nip any problems and niggles in the bud, then it is definitely worth it. Find a well-qualified sports masseuse who really knows what they’re doing – mine also does physio for the London Irish rugby team who are apparently all absolute wimps when it comes to a good hard massage!

Stretch, stretch, stretch. I know this is really boring advice but it definitely does make a difference – I find doing my stretches in front of the TV makes it a bit less tedious although I hate to think what the boys in the flat opposite can see…Hold each stretch for at least 20 seconds and repeat if any area feels particularly tight.

So those are my tips – whether they work for me remains to be seen!



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