When you’re putting in long distances, there is always the potential to develop repetitive strain and overuse injuries like IT band syndrome, which is probably the number one running-related injury that we see in our physical therapy clinic.
The iliotibial (IT) band is a strip of fibrous tissue that runs along the outside of the thigh from the hip down to just below the knee, and it allows for stability at the hip and the knee. When the IT band is not properly balanced and trained, it can become inflamed and painful. Typically you’ll notice pain on the outside of the knee, but you can feel it anywhere throughout the IT band.
When someone has IT band syndrome, the first thing we do is figure out what’s causing the problem. Is it that the IT band is too tight? Is it more related to muscle weakness or imbalance? Or is it a combination of both? Based on what we find, we will recommend specific exercises to target those impairments.
In addition to IT band syndrome, another common marathon running-related injury is ankle sprain. Lots of runners accidentally step wrong and roll over the ankle. We also see many runners with strains in their hamstring or quad muscles, or pain in their kneecap. We can address all of these problems with physical therapy. It really boils down to what's weak, what's tight, what's inflamed, and what program of exercises and other treatments we can do to fix it.
With these types of running-related problems, you will typically see your physical therapist two or three times a week. So it’s important that you follow our instructions for at-home exercises, as well. Depending on the severity of the injury, you may also have to take a break from running for a week or two.
In terms of preventing future problems, it helps to think about running as an impact sport. Every time you take a step, there's a lot of weight going through the leg and through the joints. Proper muscular stability to support the joints will make these injuries much less likely to happen.
A lot of people just look at marathon training and they think, “I need to run and build my endurance,” but they forget about strengthening and conditioning the entire body, including the upper body and the core. It really needs to be about developing the whole body for success.
Bottom line: Anytime you develop running-related pain, see a specialist. Lots of runners try to self-diagnose and self-treat their pain with over-the-counter pain relievers. But if you’re feeling pain, your body is trying to tell you something. So see a doctor or physical therapist to get a proper diagnosis and treatment regimen to go along with it.