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Avoiding IT Band Injuries

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Explosive punching, kicking and footwork drills are staples for mixed martial artists and combat sports athletes. The nature of this type of training combined with boxing, performance and plyometrics training, places tremendous strain on the hamstrings, adductors (inner thighs), gluts (outer hip) and the IT band.  To avoid tightness and stiffness in these areas most fighters part-take in the conventional stretches like straight leg hamstring stretch on the back, figure four stretch on their back center and center splits.  However, these stretches do not address the tightening that occurs in the IT Band. 

What is the IT Band?

The iliotibial band (IT) runs on the lateral portion of the upper thigh.  It travels from the hip to the side of the knee.  It attaches to the gluteal muscles and the tensor fascia lata muscle (which assists in abducting the leg), which is on the side of the hip.   The lower part connects to the tibia, just below the knee.  It is comprised of a thick fibrous tissue and acts as a stabilizer for the knee.  Due to where this tissue runs, when injured, irritated or inflamed, pain is felt on the side of thigh or knee, particularly on the outside of the mid thigh.

IT Band injuries can be classified into mild, moderate or severe similar to how sprains and strains are assigned different grades. For IT Band injuries these levels are based on intensity and duration of symptoms. One of the worst symptoms is the when the pain is described as shooting up or down the hip, between the insertions points of the IT Band.


How do Athletes Get IT Band Injuries?

Typically this type of injury is found in runners, giving it its nickname of ‘runner’s knee.’  In fact, according toe Jordan Metal MD author or Runner’s World, 15% of cyclists and 22% of runners experience IT Band syndrome. However, it is quite likely to occur in athletes where tremendous stress is placed on the knee from lateral forces.  

In a combat athlete's typical week, this can come in the form of controlled contact drills, reactive contact drills, kicking, takedowns, receiving leg kicks, explosive pivoting for powerful kicks to thai pads and more.  For many mainstream athletes where contact is uncommon, they might experience IT Band pain from their mechanics when jumping and running. Keep in mind, it is not the act of jumping that leads to it, it is often the mechanics of an individual’s landing position, running mechanics and body management that is the cause of the IT Band pain.

Most IT band injuries are over-looked by martial artists and considered an injured hip or achy knees.  The advice of a sport medicine professional is needed to assess this type of injury. IT band problems can be hard to self-diagnose. I suggest documenting pain and discomfort in your phone calendar each day. Mark down severity of pain, location and causation. This way you have clear data to share with a physical therapist or doctor.

The best way to intercept this type of injury is to incorporate IT band specific stretches and exercises to strengthen the gluteal area to help the muscles fire properly when they are needed.  Below are a few common ways to lengthen the IT band.   Take a look at this video from REACT PT that shows how to properly foam roll for IT Band care.

  1. https://www.choosept.com/guide/physical-therapy-guide-iliotibial-band-syndrome-itbs
  2. https://www.dubinchiro.com/articles/BioMechanics_April2006_IliotibialBand.pdf
  3. https://www.myactionpt.com/physical-therapist-s-guide-to-iliotibial-band-syndrome-itbs-or-it-band-syndrome

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