At the Core of the IT Band

Posted on May 25, 2012. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

I remember the first time I saw the Ice Capades.  This was in Dorothy Hamill’s day, and she was my idol.  I wanted to be a princess on ice, just like her, twirling and gliding, hair bobbing in the breeze.  I even had her haircut.  She was my star.

Until intermission.  Which was also the first time I saw a Zamboni.

While my brothers and sisters flocked to the snack stand to load up on cotton candy and Cokes, I sat mesmerized watching what appeared to be magic—a giant bulldozer-like machine gliding over the ice, smoothing over the cuts and scrapes left behind by sharp blades.   It was a thing of beauty, and suddenly my highest ambition in life was not to be a figure skater but to drive the Zamboni.

Making order out of chaos. What greater serenity could there be?  I have since found the same satisfaction I experienced watching the Zamboni in ironing and mowing the lawn.  There is something supremely peaceful in smoothing over creases, evening out irregularity.  Finding balance, perhaps.  Symmetry.

So you’d think I would find the same satisfaction in my foam roller as it smooths over the bubble-wrap tendon that has become my IT band.  Alas.  It is not so.

My IT band tightens pretty regularly, throwing off my body mechanics when I run.  It took me nearly 6 months of incredible marathon-training-stopping pain to figure out what my IT band actually does.  I experienced hip pain so devastating that for a while I could barely walk. (Did this keep me from limping out to the road every morning anyway to see if I could run?  Of course not.  Someone smack me in the head.)  All the research I did on running injuries related the IT band to knee pain, not hip pain, so I couldn’t figure out what was wrong.

I finally saw a doctor, who referred me to a physical therapist (the best, I might add, in San Antonio).  She solved the problem.  Sure, my IT band was a mess, she concluded, but that would be relatively easy to straighten out.  Simply foam roll regularly and see a massage therapist as often as I could stand it.  Easy enough.  I bought a foam roller and started massage therapy (lucky for me I found the best massage therapist, I would also add, in San Antonio).

However, the crux of the problem, my physical therapist pointed out, is not my IT band. My IT band transforming into bubble wrap is the symptom, not the cause. The real problem is at the core.  Literally.

A strong core is the basis of all good form, no matter what sport you participate in, including running.  Most runners I know, particularly women, seem to think that all they have to do is run to keep up the muscles that help them run.  In reality, you need strength training to help with speed and endurance.  But even strength training alone—if it doesn’t include core work—won’t get you very far.

My ongoing task has been to strengthen my stabilizers. It’s one I haven’t been very diligent about maintaining.  I seem to go at it in bits and spurts, a few weeks on, a few weeks off.  What reminds me to get back to core strengthening is both my foam roller and my massage therapist.  When a date with either of them forces words from my mouth that would make my mother blush, I know I’ve been neglecting my core.

What kinds of core exercises do you do to maintain stability?

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