Running with a weight vest just doesn't feel very good. Let alone, running at all. After all, you're a crossfitter, not a marathon runner. But reality is this - running is becoming more and more important in CrossFit, which also means, the injuries are increasing, too. "My knees and hips just ache and hurt from CrossFit". Well, is it really from CrossFit, or your lack of mobility and recovery care? The issue isn't always acute - knee and hip pain for crossfitters is often a result of a tight IT band. Iliotibial Band Syndrome (ITBS) is a very common overuse injury that manifests for athletes. If you're experiencing tightness, knee pain, and hip pain during workouts, here's what you can do about it.
What is the IT Band?
The IT Band is a long, thick ligament that runs along the outside of the hip, down the outside of the thigh and knee, which attaches to the top of your shinbone. The IT band is not a muscle and it cannot contract, therefore it does not lengthen, shorten or stretch; it’s pulled by the muscles attached to it and pushed by the vasus laterals or the outer quad. The gluteal or buttock muscle fibers and the tensor fascia latae (muscles of the hip joint) attach to it, and the band acts to coordinate muscle function and stabilize the knee during running. When the attached muscles surrounding the IT band become too tight, you experience IT band pain and IT band pain symptoms in other connected areas of the body.
What does the IT band do? One of the main functions of the IT band is to help stabilize the knee. Does the IT band cause knee pain? It can! When the muscles attached to the IT band become constricted, it creates tension, which then causes friction and compression of the knee. This added friction leads to swelling and inflammation, which can cause severe pain on the outside of the knee. That severe pain is called Iliotibial Band Syndrome.
What is ITBS?
ITBS pain can be felt in a variety of areas throughout the leg, mainly the knee and the hip. There are a couple ways that ITBS can manifest itself, through recurring knee injuries and a lack of mobility. For Crossfitters, this means that the kinetic chain is off, and similar to when one link in a chain breaks the whole chain malfunctions.
IT Band Syndrome Pain Symptoms:
- Improper training techniques
- Old or unsuitable footwear
- Failing to warm up or cool down
- Not stretching
- Ramping up workouts too quickly
What Causes IT Band Pain?
- Running Downhill
- Running on a sloped side of the road, which can tilt your hips and attribute to misalignment creating body imbalances
- Training on banked surfaces
IT Band pain limits CrossFit athletes from their true performance potential during training and competition. Ever tried to do a box jump with poor hip mobility? It doesn't work very well. In addition to box jumps, IT Band Syndrom can limit performance indicators, like threshold capacity, when testing deadlifts, squats, snatches, and other movements.
If the muscles attached to the IT band are already tight, these factors can force the body to compensate, worsening symptoms by causing further irritation. So what can you do about it?
Avoiding IT Band Pain & ITBS
Most of us treat IT band syndrome like any other injury. Take a few days off, pop some ibuprofen, strap your shoes on and try again. But as soon as you get back in the box, your knee still hurts and your hip mobility has only gotten worse.
IT band injury isn’t like other minor injuries. If you want to get back to running or your normal programming, you need to be proactive with aggressive injury treatment. Confront the underlying issues such as tightness and weakness in the muscles attached to the IT band. This will help correct for any imbalances, which can cause further detriment to your IT band.
If your IT band hurts, then listen to your body and stop. Running exacerbates IT band syndrome and the associated acute pain. Take a few days off, take an ice bath, get a massage, and proceed with the following treatment continuum.
Run on a flat Surface
Try running the middle of the road to avoid any slopes or improper surface alignment.
Foam Rolling IT Band
Foam rolling helps with the mobility of fascia. Without proper mobility, fibers of the fascia can constrict the normal range of motion, further causing imbalances and flaring IT band symptoms.
Furthermore, mobility can be restricted by scar tissue, as new layers of fascia are created due to IT band injury and inflammation. If this tissue is not properly treated, mobilized and aligned, it can create future injuries and prolonged recovery. Need a foam roller but don't know where to start? Check out BarBends review of the best foam rollers.
Vasus Lateralis Release
Lie on one side, with a foam roller under your bottom leg halfway between your hip and knee.
Slide your leg up and down along the foam roller, moving it from the top of the knee to the base of the hip, trying to work over the more tender areas.
Repeat for 30-second to two-minute intervals.
To focus on a specific area of the IT band, locate the most tender area with the foam roller and stop. Bend your knee at a 90-degree angle, and then straighten. Repeat motion of bending and straightening the knee for 10 to 15 seconds. Switch sides.
9 Key IT Band Stretches
Taking the proper preventative action with an active warm-up will help build and recover attached glute muscles and hip flexors to avoid further injury.
Accessory Work to Prevent IT Band Syndrom
Not everyone is a fan of accessory work, we get it. But with a couple little movements integrated into your training, you can improve your IT band strength while preventing injury. Talk about a win-win with these exercises to avoid IT band pain.
Lie face-up on the floor with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
Place your arms out to your sides at 45-degree angles, your palms facing up.
Raise your hips so your body forms a straight line from your shoulders to your knees. Squeeze your glutes as you raise your hips and push through your heels.
Pause your rep for five seconds in the extended position, then lower your body back to the starting position.
Lie on your side, with legs stacked and knees bent at a 45-degree angle.
Rest your head on your lower arm, and use your top arm to keep your body steady. Be sure that your hipbones are stacked on top of one another. Don't let the hips rock backward
Engage your core by pulling your belly button in towards your spine.
Keeping your feet touching, raise your upper knee as high as you can without shifting your hips or pelvis. Don’t move your lower leg off the floor.
Lie face-up in the supine position, and let your arms rest comfortably at your sides.
Bend both legs, and drive your heels through the floor and squeeze both glutes, as you drive your hips and pelvis towards the ceiling.
Contract your glutes, pause, then return your hips back down to the floor.
Perform 10-20 paused reps, fully contract then rest and repeat.
Get Supportive Running Shoes
Your feet are important. We recommend going to a running store to find inserts or shoes that compliment the way that your body moves. Trust us on this one - your body will last a whole lot longer, in the long run!