As soon as runners feel that frustrating knee pain, the brain automatically asks “can I run with IT band injury?”
It doesn’t feel like the kind of injury that should stop you. Surely there’s no harm in pushing on, right?
But the harder you try to run, the more the pain seems to bite. Eventually it affects your running stride so much that you just can’t keep going.
So is there a way to run through IT band injury?
Understanding IT band injury
It helps to understand why the pain is occurring when you are trying to run through IT band issues (“IT” stands for Iliotibial, if you’re curious).
The issue occurs when the leg loses control of rotation at either hip or ankle or both.
There is a rotational load through the knee which pulls the IT band tight across the outside edge of the knee as the knee bends to 40 degrees.
The increasing band tension causes pain, not through friction as first thought, but through bony pressure or irritation of a small pad (called a bursa).
It’s important to note that there is no structural damage with an IT band injury. So pushing through doesn’t have any risk of long term damage to the body.
As you go to take your next step, the brain is expecting pain. So the leg tends to buckle slightly on landing, adding more rotation and further pain.
This is why IT band injury tends to feel worse the harder you try to push through. It’s a self-reinforcing pain and dysfunction cycle.
But it’s also the secret to breaking that cycle.
How to run through IT band injury
The pain is causing the dysfunction, which is causing the pain. We need to break that cycle.
Pushing through tends to only reinforce the pain and the brain’s expectation of more pain.
The best way to stop IT band pain mid run
To break that cycle, it’s as simple as stopping running momentarily and having a walk for 20 or 30 seconds.
As walking involves landing on a straighter knee, it won’t be in a position to cause IT band tension and pain. And so the cycle is broken.
Then when you begin to run again, the trick here is to ensure that the leg doesn’t buckle on impact.
The easiest way to ensure a firm drive and good muscle activation is to increase your pace slightly.
By increasing your pace you avoid those muscles switching off and allowing the rotation to occur.
Now if it was simple as just running a bit fast at the whole time, we’d all be finished races a whole lot quicker.
Obviously going faster means eventually you will start to slow down or fatigue and usually that’s when IT band injury pain will begin to kick back in.
You need to go back to a short walk before trying again with another burst of slightly faster running. You can repeat this cycle an indefinite number of times.
IT band pain on downhill running
The only exception to this is running downhill. Often IT band injury is worse when running downhill, but switching to a walk can still cause pain due to the knee bend required.
The only option is to go for a deliberately short stride when you walk. This ensures that the knee won’t bend past the magic 40 degree angle.
That should be enough to allow the pain to ease and off you go again.