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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