Tips for Trail Runners—How to Avoid (and Treat) IT Band Syndrome

Trail Running Offers Both Health Benefits and Some Risks

Trail running is steadily building in popularity. From a public health perspective, this is great news. After all, trail running offers countless benefits for cardiovascular health, orthopaedic health, weight management, mental and emotional wellbeing, and more.

But what about the risks?

As Sports Medicine specialists, the physicians at Rothman Orthopaedic Institute have extensive experience treating trail runners. One of the most common orthopaedic injuries these runners experience is iliotibial band, or IT, band syndrome.

What measures can trail runners take to effectively prevent IT band syndrome? What IT band syndrome treatment options are available to injured athletes? The orthopaedic experts at Rothman Orthopaedic Institute address these questions and more below.

What Is IT band syndrome?

Are you experiencing one or more of the following symptoms?

  • Pain along the outside of the knee during running activity

  • Knee pain following activity

  • Physical tenderness centered around the knee

  • Physical tenderness in the buttocks

  • Inflammation centered around the outside of the knee

  • Redness and warmth around the outside of the knee

  • Sensations of clicking in the outside of the knee

If you run on a regular basis or participate in other sports that involve regular running activity, these symptoms may be the consequence of a condition known as IT band syndrome.

The iliotibial band, or IT band, is a thick band of connective tissue that runs from the hip to the top of the shin. The portion of this ligament that extends down the side of the knee can become tightened due to repetitive, high-impact activity. As the band tightens, friction between the IT band and the outside of the knee can cause serious pain, inflammation, and damage to the affected tissue.

Tips for Trail Runners: Preventing IT Band Syndrome

What can trail runners to prevent IT band syndrome? The following tips will help you to avoid this common condition.

  • Moderate your trail terrain
    Steep, hilly terrain and the uneven surfaces of off-road trails can expose the IT band to exaggerated stress. Begin trail running activity gradually; increase the duration of your runs and the intensity of the terrain you run on over time to allow your muscles and connective tissues to adjust. Even after adjustment, it is important to perform the majority of your training on moderate terrain trails.

  • Balance trail running with flat surface training
    Always intersperse trail training with lower-impact training on flat surfaces. This allows your IT band to recover from high-stress trail running without compromising your training schedule.

  • Stretch and exercise proactively
    IT band exercises and IT band stretches, such as these three targeted exercises, can help to loosen and strengthen muscles and tissues surrounding the IT band. A physical therapist or personal trainer can also recommend routines based on your specific symptoms.

  • Cut back on activity if symptoms emerge
    The most effective preventative measure for IT band syndrome is rest. Incorporate adequate rest and cross-training into your training routine. If symptoms of IT band syndrome begin to emerge, immediately reduce the intensity and duration of your trail running activity. If symptoms do not improve, temporarily cease running activity altogether.

Incorporating these measures, alongside general running safety precautions, into your training can help you to effectively prevent IT band injuries.

Treating IT Band Syndrome

What should you do if you are already experiencing the symptoms of IT band syndrome? For most patients, rest and moderation of activity will be sufficient for reversing this condition. If rest alone does not provide relief, however, there are numerous effective treatment options.

For most patients, non-surgical treatments will be sufficient for treating IT band injuries. These include icing, anti-inflammatory medication, and physical therapy. In the most severe cases, arthroscopic surgery may be recommended; the need for surgery, however, is rare.

Whatever treatment option you require, the Sports Medicine experts at Rothman Orthopaedic Institute can provide you with the most advanced, effective care available. To learn more about IT band syndrome treatment at Rothman Orthopaedic Institute or to schedule an appointment, please visit us here or contact us at 1-800-321-9999.

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