IT band

IT Band Rehab

(Note: I’m not a health professional. I am merely a runner who suffered an injury related to my IT band and am sharing what I did to get back on the road.) 

When I hurt my knee, I didn’t do the smart thing and go to a doctor – instead I went to the internet and self-diagnosed. I knew that ITBS and runners knee were two of the most common running knee injuries so that’s where I started and I found that ITBS symptoms exactly matched the pain I was having.

I quickly learned that a case of iliotibial band syndrome (ITBS) is a two part problem.

  1. There’s the acute injury (inflamation near your knee that causes the knee pain)
  2. The underlying cause of the injury

They need to be treated separately. Step one was healing the damage done to my knee. We addressed the inflammation in my last post when I changed my diet and though diet did solve the chronic achiness, it wasn’t enough to keep the pain from returning when I ran and diet alone didn’t treat the underlying problem – which I still was unsure of.

I was sure, however, that I needed a fundamental change in my training strategy.

Prior to the injury, I’d been running 4-5 times a week through our neighborhood, mileage was between 25-35 miles. Our neighborhood doesn’t have sidewalks so I run on the side of the road which is made of concrete and severely canted for drainage. Because safety is always my number one concern I always run on the left side of the road.

Also, I had switched the type of shoe I was training in. When I first began running I ran in the Mizuno Wave Creation. Later I switched to the Mizuno Wave Rider. The Wave Rider never suited me well. After a few weeks I developed pain the arches of my feet that never seemed to go away but for some reason I insisted that they were the right shoes for me and I continued running in them (that was stupid, don’t do that).

Finally, though I’d been consistent in my running I’d neglected everything else. I hadn’t been cross training, stretching, foam rolling or weight training. I knew I should be doing all these things but was just too lazy to do them.

The ITBS caused me to re-evaluate everything I was doing and formulate a new plan.

The first order of business was rest. I’d read online that it was safe to run until you felt pain, which for me surfaced around 1.5 miles. Knowing that I needed some kind of workout and knowing I couldn’t run further than 1.5 miles I started going to the YMCA. I set a 30 minute cardio goal for each visit, starting on the treadmill and ending with cross training. Run until it hurt, cross train the remainder. I got to know the gym equipment well. The elliptical, the arc trainer, the rower, the spinner, they were all my friends. I even started swimming again.

During this time I realized that I could run further without pain on the treadmill then I could outside. The softer, flat surface of the treadmill combined with the lack of turns (turns place torque on your knees) meant I could run 50% further pain free. Soon I was running almost exclusively on the treadmill.

It’s almost impossible to read about an IT band injury that doesn’t talk about weak hip and glute muscles. I read that if you couldn’t do a single leg squat then your hip muscles were too weak. I attempted doing one single leg squat, immediately my knee collapsed and I fell to the floor. Clearly the hip muscles needed some work. I bought mini bands and started doing hip exercises once a day.

One day, when researching ITBS online, I came across a blog post written by Peter Larson on RunBlogger. Peter was in a similar situation as me. He found that switching back to his old shoes made a difference in how far he could run without pain. That’s all the motivation I needed to dig an old, retired pair of Wave Creations out of my closet and take them on a test run. That day I ran 3 miles pain free – double the length of my last pain free run two days earlier. I immediately bought a new pair of Wave Creations online.

I gave my knee a few days rest and then started running in the Wave Creations and on the treadmill exclusively. After 3 weeks I’d gone from a 1.5 mile pain free run to a 7 mile pain free run. I finally felt like I was making progress.

All that time spent cross training made me realize just how weak my body was. Though my running muscles were strong, the rest of my body that supported those muscles weren’t. I could run a sub 1:50 half marathon but I couldn’t do 5 (knee) pushups.

I started lifting weights to build all my supporting muscles. I did the stronglifts 5×5 program which I modified to fit my abilities and my schedule.

By the beginning of March, two months after the initial injury, I was running pain free. My total mileage for January 2015 was 6.5 miles by March it was 70 miles. I declared myself healed.

I knew running the Houston Marathon and The Woodlands Marathon only 7 weeks apart was going to require some serious training, especially since I was coming off an injury so over the summer I focused on building my strength by weight lifting and cross training. By the end of the summer I could do 15 full body pushups and I started getting random compliments about how good I looked. All the hard work was paying off.

Training for the Houston Marathon started the second week in September. My plan included 6 days of running, speed work twice a week and strength training once a week. I’d never asked my body to do anything close to this but surprisingly it handled it fine – so fine, in fact that I signed up for the Cypress Half at the last minute.

The Monday before the race when doing my normal workout I felt it – that familiar pain in my left knee returned. Ugh.

I was confused. I had been doing my hip exercises. I was still running in the same shoes. I was still doing most of my running on the treadmill. But I learned my lesson the first time and spent the next 5 days cross training while my knee healed. I also started reading Scott Jurek’s Eat to Run. One of the things he mentioned in that book was his stretching routine and The Wharton’s Stretch Book. I bought a copy and started doing the stretches recommended in the book. That was the final piece of the puzzle – three days of following the stretching routine for runners outlined in the book was exactly what I needed.

I ran the Cypress Half that Sunday pain free in a massive 8 minute PR (1:39). The days that followed my knee still ached but after an additional week of stretching my IT problems were gone.

Occasionally I still feel tightness in my knee, almost always when I have gone through a period of not stretching regularly. When I do, I immediately get down on the floor with my piece of paracord and stretch out my legs. It works every time. It’s like my body’s way of reminding me that I’ve been neglecting it and it needs attention.

The pain did return during the Houston Marathon but this time I knew why and spent the three days after the race stretching. Two weeks later, it’s my shin that’s sore – not my knee and hip.

IT band problems are a very common and frustrating injury. When trying to heal my injury I found that testimonials from others who had experienced a similar injury was my best resource. I hope that by sharing my experience I can help someone else with their own injury and get back to running faster.

IT Band Rehab & Whole 30

The last I left you, I had deferred my The Woodlands Marathon entry due to some serious IT band problems.

The injury didn’t happen overnight. My body was giving me warning signs for months. I ignored it, of course. It wasn’t until it went from ache to pain that I admitted that I was injured.

I think, as runners, we all can relate to that feeling of panic when we realize we’re hurt and can’t run. Desperation sets in quickly and we’re willing to do anything to get us back to running faster. That’s where I found myself in January. I knew the acute knee injury was inflammation in the knee and I also knew that some foods contribute to inflammation. I figured that by eliminating the inflammatory foods in my diet I would speed up the healing of the inflammatory response in my knee. Seems logical, right?

I’d known several people who did Whole 30 and wouldn’t stop talking about how life changing it was so I did a little research and realized that Whole 30 eliminated all the inflammatory foods I wanted to avoid. I started January 2 and ended January 31. It actually was life changing.

IMG_20150131_133219What is Whole 30?

Simply put Whole 30 is a restrictive food program that lasts 30 days. It’s not about loosing weight (though that’s often a pleasant side effect), it’s about retraining your body, your metabolism, your taste buds and changing your eating habits.

The rules are simple. Eat meat, eggs, nuts, fruits and vegetables; don’t eat dairy, legumes, refined sugar, grains, and alcohol or try to make traditional foods out of approved ingredients (a pancake is still a pancake!). You can eat as much of the approved foods as you want.

It was hard, especially in the beginning. The first few days were easy because it was a novelty but the entire second week seemed to drag by. I dreaded the first sip of black coffee every morning – I could barely choke it down.

I started feeling different after about three days. I had more energy. I no longer needed that after lunch cup of coffee to make it past the kids’ bedtime. I immediately noticed that I thinned out around my waist and my muscles felt a lot stronger. That foggy headed feeling disappeared and I was thinking clearly.

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After a week the achiness in my knees disappeared completely.

One morning during week three I sat down on the couch with my coffee and all of a sudden it was no longer bitter. I could actually taste the coffee instead of the creamer. I felt like I’d been freed.

The hardest part about Whole 30 was re-learning how to cook and confronting the idea that foods you thought we’re “good for you” aren’t necessarily as good as you thought. When you don’t eat dairy, wheat, beans or sugar that leaves a lot of calories to be filled by fruits and vegetables – then you realize that though foods like whole grains and dairy look good for you on paper they’re never as good for you as their caloric equivalent of fruits and veggies.

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My body responded. By the time our 30 days were up I felt like a different person. I had more energy, more…spunk. I no longer felt like I was being dragged through life – I don’t know how to describe it other than to say it just felt right. Added bonus, I lost the last 10 pounds of baby weight. We were so pleased with the results that we did an extra 30 days.

Re-intoducing myself to normal food was hard because I felt so good both mentally and physically! I didn’t want to go back to my old way of eating because I didn’t want to go back to my old way of feeling. I know how different types of foods affect my body. I’ve also figured out how much of the offending foods I can eat before the adverse reaction begins. For example, I know that wheat makes me bloated but rice doesn’t and I can eat about 3 servings of wheat a week before I notice a change in the way my body feels. I can handle dairy in small amounts but the days of eating cheese a half a block at a time are gone.

A year later the lessons we learned doing Whole 30 still govern our life. Though we no longer follow it exclusively we do use it as a general guideline for our eating habits. To keep us from going crazy and to allow for dining out we make exceptions during the weekend. It’s an arrangement that keeps us honest, and works for our lifestyle.

Though I did Whole 30 to help my knee heal faster I noticed a marked difference in my athletic performance. Now that I’ve changed my eating habits and my body is getting the proper amount of nutrition I recover faster after hard workouts; I have more energy which makes completing my workouts easier. My joints feel strong and muscle soreness which used to linger for days now goes away after 24 hours.

The correlation between the food that goes in and the performance that comes out is real. If you’re going to ask your body to push itself beyond it’s known limits you have to give it good fuel. That’s the biggest takeaway from Whole 30, food is fuel for your body. That’s what Whole 30 taught me. It’s a lesson that I will keep with me forever.