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Managing IT Band Syndrome

IT Band

One of my chronic hiking health issues is IT Band Syndrome. It flares up when I carry a heavy backpack for long distances and is one of the main reasons why I try to keep my pack as lightweight as possible.

The IT Band (also called the Illiotibial Tract) is a length of tissue on the outside of your thigh that extends from the pelvis over the hip to the top of the tibia just below the knee. Poke your outer thigh and you can feel it. It helps to stabilize your knee when you walk or run. When your IT Band gets tight, it rubs against the outer knuckle of your knee and gets inflamed which can be quite painful.

The reasons for IT Band Syndrome vary from individual to individual and can be due to overuse, anatomical issues such as poor arches in your feet,  over-pronation, or muscle imbalances between your legs. It's a difficult syndrome to cure completely, but there are ways to manage the condition such as regular stretching, massage therapy, or using a foam roller to keep the IT Band loose.

So when I caught a twinge of ITBS two weeks ago on a hike with my heavier winter pack, I immediately scheduled a 45 minute massage to loosen it up. With winter hiking season starting up, the last thing I want is to be suffering from leg pain.

My masseuse, Lana the Russian, strongly recommended (more like commanded) that I suck it up and use a foam roller to loosen up my IT band. I've tried this in the past, but it's hard to stick with because it is so painful. Here's a video that shows how to use a foam roller, minus the cougar screams and groans that normally accompany this process.

Last week, I used the foam roller on my IT Bands for 10 minutes every day. At first this hurt like hell, but it became more endurable after 3 or 4 days.

The proof in the pudding, however, is that I had no IT Band issues at all when hiking and snowshoeing this past weekend with  a heavy winter pack. I was greatly relieved by that. My plan, therefore, is to start using the foam roller as a part of my daily gym workout, every non-hiking day from here on out, year round.

Coincidentally, I met another hiker this weekend who has also started using the foam roller to control his ITBS. Unlike me, he did not take a break during the weekend and brought a foam roller along on our trip. Right after our hike, he was on the floor stretching his IT band on his roller in a public display of agony. Poor guy has it far worse than me, but he also reports an improvement using the foam roller.

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9 comments

  1. Thanks for kind of postings!

    As you figured i got the same problem.

    And i was lucky, i got my problems a couple of weeks after your first posting about this.

    So, i have had a smooth free ride :)

    i just got my Cho-Pat Dual Action Knee Strap,

    but haven't used them in the field yet.

    And now, this great news, thanks a bunch.

    Gonna get me something like that roller and get cured :)

  2. I have to thank you for your posts about ITB. Earlier this year my knee was always hurting and I didn't know why- I just toughed it out on hikes. I read your post last spring and thought, "I bet that's my problem!" With some stretching, it's under control for me.

  3. jarra – that is really gratifying to hear. Thank you.

  4. Fist time I experienced this I had no idea what was going on. The pain was just about more than I could take. I could walk almost pain free as long as the back pack was off. Thinking about it, the only thing I had done different in my exercising was deep knee bends with free weights. This gave very strong legs for hill climbing. But the added weight of the backpack and down hill hiking would trigger the pain you describe. Also, I always stretched, but never the IT band.

    I now bicycle for exercising the legs to aid hill climbing, no more deep knee bends. Also I regularly stretch the IT band. So far both have kept me pain free.

  5. The roller of misery :( Last year I started having trouble with my right knee so I went to a physio who told me it was ITBS.

    He showed me what to do with the roller but it was absolute agony. And understandably I shied away from buying one. My knee hasnt given any trouble over the last 14 months. I use a standard elastic knee support, keep rucksack weight to a minimum (I'd do that anyway), use superfeet to correct the pronation and use poles on the up hill slogs.

    However on a recent trip to the Lakes I started getting twinges again. This may have been due to the fact that I didnt use the superfeet on this occasion. Worryingly the terrain I was on is not unlike the type that I'll encounter on the Challenge so I guess I better get my card out of my wallet and buy a roller…

  6. The first time I tried the roller, I immediately stopped…I thought I must be doing it wrong because it hurt to do it to my uninjured leg as much as the injured one. In fact, there's a spot on the outer thigh that my karate instructors have us kick (lightly!) for pain tolerance drills specifically because "there's a nerve there" (figuratively?)… and this is one of the spots where most of the weight of my body would be pushing on this one spot on the roller. It turns out I _was_ doing it wrong, at least partially, in that I wasn't supporting my weight on my other foot like in the video… I had the other leg stacked on top of the engaged leg. Hopefully I'm doing it correctly now… video helps:)

  7. I actually stack the legs – hurts more that way.

  8. Last year my IT band acted up while hiking on the Bruce. I hiked with that pain through the remaining three days of a five day hike. Needless to say, I was in agony when I got home. My therapist recommended a foam roller and I agree, it is quite painful to start and I was still in a lot of pain but I continued with it. As you progress it hurts much less and the benefit far outweighs the pain. I prepare my body pre hike with the foam roller to make sure both sides are nice and loose and have no more issues and roll when I get back from the hike. I admit rolling tight lactic filled muscles is not the best but it’s what keeps me hiking.
    Thanks for the post

  9. Hi all. In physio for IT band injury. Cause is aggressive start to biking season.Stretching and anti-inflammatory meds for 2 weeks. First time with this injury. It’s been a week today, getting better..got the ok to bike in moderation. If you have had this injury please leave a comment. Thanks

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