It’s tough for an injured runner to take time off to rest and heal. We don’t want to lose our momentum, strength, and endurance. Healthy eating habits can fall to the wayside. And life’s obligations too easily crowd into those time slots diligently carved out for the day’s run. But the hardest part of recovery can be getting back out there after taking time off.
I know this firsthand, just having come off an Iliotibial Band injury, which I experienced as pain deep in my right hip. On my first run, fears of re-injury resonated through my body with each foot strike. I tired easily. I won’t lie, I hated every moment of that run.
I needed a plan. But since I’m still a new runner (only one year and two half-marathons under my belt), I quickly realized I’d have to audition strategies each time I went out, monitoring my body and taking note of what worked for me. It’s been two and a half months since I identified the IT Band injury. I’m 100% pain free today. Here’s how I ran back from my injury.
I began with two weeks off from running. In the gym, I got my cardio fix with the elliptical or stationary bike. Even then, I took it easy, elevating my heart rate to only 80% of target and stretching well afterwards. During this time, I began doing THIS IT Band strengthening exercise three times a week.
Week Three, I added two outdoor runs to my workouts. These runs were only two and three miles, respectively. I ran at about a 12-minute/mile pace. At each mile marker, I stopped and stretched to target the IT Bands of each leg. For up to two days following each of these runs, I felt a tightness in my right hip that was uncomfortable but not painful. I determined I had not re-injured the band.
During Week Four, I added another run. The longest of these three runs was four miles. I had learned from articles online that one possible cause of an IT Band injury is always running on the same side of the road. In her article “What Is Iliotibial Band Syndrome,” Elizabeth Quinn says, “IT band syndrome is common in runners who perform unbalanced, repetitive exercise such as running only on one side of a crowned road, or only running one way around a track. Most roads slope off to the sides and running along the edge causes to the outside foot to be lower than the inside foot. This in turn causes the pelvis to tilt to one side and stresses the IT band.” (Source) So, I began running with my back to oncoming traffic on straightaway stretches of my routes where there was excellent visibility. I removed my ear buds so I could hear the occasional car behind me, though I stuck to rural roads with little circulation.
Also, I’d read somewhere that running downhill can aggravate a sore IT Band because foot strikes are heavier against the pavement on a decline. So during Week Four, I ran straightaways and up hills, but I slowed to a walk when the course went downhill.
By this time, my hip was feeling much better. However, I still felt soreness in my right hip by about mile two of a run, and the discomfort usually lasted throughout that day.
I ran three times during Week Five, alternating sides of the road so that my hips were tilted for equal times. Instead of walking down the hills this week, I tried altering my foot strikes. Usually, my foot hits the pavement at its mid-point, at the arch. When I ran downhill, I deliberately hit the road with my heel first, rolling through the rest of my foot until I pushed off with my toe for the next stride. I noticed a difference in the way this strategy forced my muscles to fire, and my legs absorbed the shock of running downhill differently, too. I did not feel soreness in my right hip on these runs.
For the next few weeks, I continued a three run/week schedule, employing my strategies and IT Band stretches. Sometime during this time, I stopped noticing any hip soreness during or after my runs.
This morning, I ran five miles. The IT Band in my right hip doesn’t give me trouble anymore. However, I understand now its fragility. Though I don’t alter my stride when the course goes downhill anymore, I do run on the opposite side of the road whenever it’s safe so my right foot isn’t always the outside one. I continue the IT Band Strengthening Exercises three times a week. And should the Syndrome return one day, I now have a tried and true plan for recovery.
Have you ever suffered an (IT Band) injury? Please share your recovery strategies in the comments!