Injured Again: Runner’s Knee

Well, dang, injured again. Looks like I’ve tried to do too much too soon – not the first time this has happened. I spent roughly 15 years dealing with shin splints during my repeated efforts to return to running and now, after almost two injury free years, here I am again. But this time, it’s with iliotibial band (IT Band) syndrome or, more commonly, runner’s knee.

In discussing runner’s knee with other runners, the question has come up a number of times as to what exactly the iliotibial band is. And, thanks to the magic of Google, I can confidently communicate that the IT band is basically a group of fibers that runs from the area of your hip and glutes – I really didn’t want to say “butt” – down to your knee. When it’s healthy and doing its job, it provides stability to the outside of your leg when performing activities like running and cycling. When it’s inflamed and not healthy, it provides much pain in the outside area of your knee whenever you try to do things like go up stairs or bend down to pick something up – nothing has made me feel my age like the pain that runner’s knee provides.

I think that my particular case of runner’s knee started a while back while I was doing a three-month post-gallbladder surgery base building phase. Since I was off the road for about a month, I started slowly and gradually built up to 40+ miles per week. During that time, I started to notice that my upper hamstrings and glutes were unusually tight – to the point of being able to sit for only 10 or 15 minutes at a time before having to get up and move around. To combat this, I did some light stretching before going to bed at night and that seemed to help. But, once the base building phase ended and I started a speed building phase, complete with fartleks, hills and tempo runs, the syndrome came into its full glory.

At this point, I’ve reduced my weekly mileage significantly to the point at which I’m going out every other day or so for 5 to 6 miles while doing some increased, targeted stretching. And, as no battle against runner’s knee would be complete with out a foam roller, I purchased a pretty light-blue one and have actually used it. It’s funny, they seem so cute and painless when you look at them — whoodathunk that they’d have more in common with a medieval torture device?

A week or two into the stretches and waterboarding sessions with the foam roller, I am getting significant relief but then again, I’m only going 18-20 miles a week. I’m thinking about adding miles here soon so we’ll see how it goes. One lesson that I seem never to learn though is that slow and steady wins the race or, more realistically, allows you to actually run the race. The one positive to pull out of this though is that, as I’ve already dealt with shin splints and runner’s knee, I only need to get plantar fasciitis to complete the trifecta!

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