The worst injury I ever had was a severe case of illiotibial band syndrome (ITBS). For six months, I suffered from constant IT band pain and didn’t run a step.
My fascination with this injury led me to develop the ITB Rehab Routine (the video has been viewed hundreds of thousands of times!) and write several in-depth articles on the injury:
- Anatomy of a 6 Month IT Band Injury: Post-Injury Analysis and Lessons Learned
- How to Treat Injuries Like an Elite: Healing ITBS in 5 Days
- The Untold Story of my IT Band Syndrome Treatment
My path to curing IT band pain led me to dramatically revamp my training and start this site. Since getting healthy, I’ve run a significant marathon personal best and numerous annual mileage records.
More importantly, I’ve helped many of YOU recover from your own IT band pain. Many of the training plans I write are actually rehabilitation programs for ITBS.
And Strength Running’s flagship program Injury Prevention for Runners includes a detailed, step-by-step treatment (plus Q&A and myths about the injury exposed) for ITBS.
So far, about 1,000 runners have been helped through these two programs. In fact, Injury Prevention for Runners is the most comprehensive injury prevention and treatment program on the market right now.
But today I want to give you a new perspective on this injury to help you cure your ITBS discomfort.
I invited Eric Stermer from Red Mules Running to talk about his own illiotibial band syndrome injury: how he got hurt, what worked, and the steps he took to get healthy.
Eric studied Kinesiology at SUNY Cortland and has personal bests of 24:59 for 8k cross country, 14:59 for 5k, and 4:20 for the mile. He is also a USATF-certified coach and an ISSA certified personal trainer.
Take it away, Eric!
Eric’s Illiotibial Band Syndrome Story
Jason and I both have an unfortunate commonality: we’ve experienced a debilitating ITB injury.
Not only did the injury end my last season in a Cortland singlet, it kept me from enjoying time with my wife (who I was dating at the time) and doing my job as a camp counselor.
I remember I could hardly walk, dance, ride a bike, or cross train… never mind run.
The injuries that I suffered in my career up to that point were Achilles tendinopathy, tibial stress fractures, “runners knee” and minor muscle strains. These usually put me out of running for about 6-12 weeks.
But my IT band syndrome put me out for 20 weeks before I could even function normally, and then another three months before I could return to running.
I almost gave up on running for good.
Fortunately, four years later, I am still going after it and not giving up.
In my 13+ years of running I have learned about training, workouts, nutrition, good habits and race tactics, but injury prevention has been a new adventure of mine since the ITB injury that ended my college career.
I believe I have uncovered a few reasons why I got illiotibial band syndrome and would like to share three new exercises to prevent it from returning ever again.
IT Band Syndrome Cause #1: Too Fast, Too Soon
Jason talks about why runners get injured in his injury prevention program, explaining that many runners run “Too Much, Too Fast, Too Soon.”
I was a culprit of this training mistake.
Just before I got illiotibial band syndrome, I ran a championship race indoors in which I was attempting to qualify for nationals in the 5k, when I unexpectedly turned my ankle on my own teammates heel two laps into the race.
My ankle swelled up like crazy, forcing me to drop out of the race.
Bummed that I ended my indoor season like that, I took four days off from running to let the swelling go down. After those 4 days I wrapped it up and got right into my speed workouts for the outdoor track season: a series of interval workouts over hurdles.
This clearly was more than I should have done, and at such a fast pace so soon after turning my ankle.
After two weeks of these types of workouts I injured my IT band.
I remember cooling down after finishing a great workout and all of a sudden, the outside of my knee became so painful that I couldn’t even walk!
If I had just been a little more patient, taken more time off and eased back into the workouts, I could have ran my final season in a Cortland singlet.
IT Band Syndrome Cause #2: Weak Hips And Banked Roads
My injury occurred just after the indoor track season, which usually ends in February. Running in upstate New York at this time of year confines most runners to the roads.
Roads are banked for water run-off (this banking is called the road’s camber). Running on the road’s camber causes your hip to drop on the leg closer to the curb.
This unfortunate reality of road running lengthens the band at either the insertion or origin. This lengthening can over-stress the tendon and with repetition over time, can cause illiotibial band syndrome.
It didn’t help that I was doing ZERO hip strengthening exercises (or core work for that matter), which is the best way to deter ITBS. Stronger hips could have been more resilient to ITBS when I was forced to run on the roads.
The confinement to the cambered roads and my lack of preventative work merely primed me for the unfortunate injury that was to follow.
Curing IT Band Pain: 3 Extra Exercises
The best way to prevent and heal IT Band pain is to strengthen the hips, including the gluteus medius and tensor fascia latae. It’s also critical to correct any biomechanical problems with chiropractic adjustments or running gait education.
Jason has a great ITB Rehab Routine to help strengthen weak hip abductor muscles (get a free illustrated guide to this routine here!).
But, to mix it up a little bit, I have 3 wall exercises for you to use in addition to his routine.
1. Windshield Wipers: The first exercise is a variation of the Lateral Leg Raise demonstrated in Jason’s routine. The difference is your starting position. Instead of starting with your ankles together while laying on your side, you are going to extend your leg back at a 10o-20o angle pressing back against a wall, then proceed with your raise.
To make this exercise harder, you can press a stability ball against the wall when you extend your leg back.
2. Isometric Glute Medius Hold: This exercise requires a wall to lean against. Stand with your shoulders perpendicular to the wall. With your outside foot about 2 feet from the wall, pick up the inside foot making a right angle at your hip. Rotate your flexed leg so that your knee presses against the wall. Lean a little into the wall and hold for 20 to 30 seconds. Make sure to keep your hips level.
3. Hip Banger: Stand with your shoulders perpendicular to the wall, feet shoulder width apart with your inside foot about six inches from the wall. First, squat till your knees are almost at a 9o° angle, extending your arms out in front of you.
While in the squatting position, rotate your shoulders and hips away from the wall while trying to touch your hip to the wall. Return to neutral and then stand up straight. If you’re still experiencing IT band pain, skip this exercise.
Here is a video demonstration of these three exercises:
Lessons Learned From Illiotibial Band Syndrome
In junior college, my coach always used to say that “running is all about the silence between the notes.”
He meant that focusing on the details while you’re not running is what makes you a better runner:
Years later I realized that it also meant preventative work and careful planning to be able to continue running.
As we all know, you get better at running… by running.
If you’re halted by an injury, it’s going to set you back in your development as a runner.
Jason puts it best with these two coaching tips:
“Fast running is the product of very smart training and diligent injury prevention work. It doesn’t interfere with running. It enables running. And indeed, smart prevention is really smart training.”
“If you think you have no time for prevention work, you’ll sooner or later have to find time for injuries.” <– Click here to tweet that!
Sometimes I wonder how fast I could have been in high school and college if I had just followed that type of guidance.
It is my hope that you find this information useful to keep you healthy, to stay on the roads longer, and run faster than you ever have before.
Eric Stermer is the owner of Red Mules Running blog and has been a runner for 13+ years. He has been a part of multiple championships including the 2008 NCAA DIII National Championship Cross Country team at SUNY Cortland.
Finally, don’t miss our free prevention course (with more detailed IT Band Syndrome treatment strategies)!