've noticed more people running in my neighborhood lately. People I've not seen before and I'm out walking with my dogs a fair amount and I have a reasonably good memory (except for things like where I put my keys) so I'm thinking that these are folks who are trying to get a jump start on a new year. Get in shape, lose some weight, tone up. Running seems to be the exercise of choice when someone gets the get-in-shape itch.
I'll bet that some of these new runners are going to develop knee pain and some of those will end up with the diagnosis of Runner's Knee and then spend a bunch of time on the Internet searching how to fix it and discover a two common themes in treatment: stretch the IT Band and strengthen the quads.
There's nothing wrong or bad about stretching the hip or strengthening the quads. Making your quads stronger can only help you. But, I don't think you can stretch the IT Band and actually change its' resting length at all. The reason I think this is that the IT Band has an inherent structural stiffness of about 100 lbs/ inch*. You might be able to alter the length of the muscle attached to it but the band itself is really tough (which is why it's sometimes used to augment ACL reconstructions).
So, if stretching the IT Band doesn't actually happen then why do so many people do it and claim it's effective?
Stretching or massaging or using deep pressure or any other manual technique may increase range of motion of the hip but that doesn't mean that the cause of the increase is that your IT Band is longer. It just means you have more motion. The IT Band is the tendon of the "pelvic deltoid" muscle - the tensor fascia latae and gluteal muscles. Since the IT Band has such high tensile strength, the improvements in motion are from changes in the muscle tone or tension. It relaxes.
When I finally figured this out, I felt liberated. I no longer had to study and practice hours trying to master specific hand placements and highly subtle techniques. I had PT instructors / mentors, who would look at my hand placements on a patient's leg and say, "No, no, no. Not there. Here," and then move my hands about an inch one way or the other. It made no sense to me. Bottom line - your brain doesn't know anything about technique. Your brain could care less if you're using Myofascial Release or Rolfing or Deep Friction or a foam roller. Your brain responds to input; intensity, frequency, duration. When you rub or tug or push or pull on the tissue, your brain processes the input and decides to release pain relieving chemicals or reduce the muscle tone or both. The result is you suddenly have more motion.
So, you might be wondering if I'm just in a tizzy about nothing. Who cares? Here's why. The goal is to increase motion in the hip and if you're at all like me, I prefer to get there as easily and painlessly as possible. So, I'm suggesting that rather than stretch the IT Band, which is bit like trying to stretch a brick, why not either use massage or some other manual technique to the hip deltoid muscles or even better, use exercise to improve the mobility of the hip? If there is more than one way to the goal, why choose the hard way?
As for running into the new year, my advice is to get fit to run rather than run to get fit. It generally works out better in the long run (I just couldn't avoid that one but it's true).
* Birnbaum, K., C. H. Siebert, et al. (2004). "Anatomical and biomechanical investigations of the iliotibial tract." Surg Radiol Anat 26(6): 433-46.
New to the View? Consider subscribing to my RSS feed:Subscribe to this blog's feed. Or sign up to get email updates in the box at the top left hand corner of my blog and then share this blog with your friends.