My Name is Donna and I'm a Running Addict

For about a year, my right IT band has been bothering me after long runs.  It actually started on January 1, 2014.

There is a bursa (fluid-filled sac) at Gerdy's Tubercle (the spot where the IT band inserts on the outside of the knee) that cushions the IT band as it moves back and forth over the lateral condoyle (the bony protrusion on the outside of the knee) during running. 

My bursa had gotten inflamed and angry and swollen (bursitis). That caused my IT band to have a harder time sliding across it, leading to pain and swelling at the insertion-- the formal name is IT band friction syndrome.  It caused a burning pain after long runs and sometimes a stabbing pain during long runs.

I saw a doctor about it last April, and he just told me to reduce mileage, run on soft surfaces, take high doses of anti-inflammatory, and to go to physical therapy because IT band issues often come from weakness in the hip or glute on the opposite side.  I did all those things, including running trails almost exclusively for 7 or 8 months, and it did get a bit better for a while. I also foam rolled, had deep tissue massages, and switched to different shoes.  While it improved, it never fully went away.  The area around Gerdy's was just less swollen and sore some of the time.  

Lately, it had gotten worse.  I've been training on asphalt primarily for an upcoming road marathon.  My long runs have climbed to 16 miles.  The combination left that bursa angry and swollen again.  I'll be honest.  I was starting to feel defeated.  

You runners know what I'm talking about.  Fighting with an injury for a year+ is not fun. In the grand scheme of life, no, it's not terrible, but when you love something and it gives you great pleasure, it is difficult to have it become rather miserable. 

So, I sought a second opinion.  Finally.  A dear friend recommended an orthopedic doc, and I saw him on Wednesday.  I told him all of this, and he said a cortisone shot into the bursa could dry up all that extra "goo" (his word, not mine!) in there.  The problem was the swollen bursa, not the IT band itself.  He understood I had done all the "right things" already, but this stubborn bursitis wouldn't budge.  I had done my research beforehand, so I knew this was probably my next and best option based on my Internet self-diagnosis. :-) 

This new doc is a doctor who UNDERSTANDS runners. He asked me about my goals, in addition to my history.  He "gets it."  He told me that treating runners is akin to treating drug addicts.  He could tell the runner to stop, but he knows the runner won't. Can't. It's more than a hobby.  It's more than exercise.  It's a way of life for us.  It's definitely an addiction.  

He left the room to get the shot. I had been told how much it would hurt, but the pain still caught me a bit off guard. The needle was large, and the place he inserted it was already very sore.  Three times in my life, I've had a similar sensation---when I had the epidural for my children's births while having back labor.  There is such a strange feeling when a needle is inserted into a space it clearly does not belong!!  A shot in the glute or arm is no big deal for me.  You can take my blood all day long, and I hardly notice.  But insert a needle.... in my SORE KNEE??? I almost came off the table.  I cringed and yelled (something... not sure what!) and unintentionally jerked my knee a bit. He wiggled it around some while in there "to break up the goo." It left a small hole and a quarter-sized bruise.

I admit, afterwards, I felt a bit dirty. Good grief.  Am I that much of an addict?  Do I insist upon running at all costs???   Is this wise?  Should I just run short distances, maybe become a casual "jogger"?  Is too much of a good thing a bad thing?   I'll acknowledge that I have a bit of an addictive personality.  I've been somewhat of a Type A Overachiever most of my life.  When I found running at age 36, it was as if I was discovering a whole new world and a whole new side of myself.  It was love.  Passion.  

I'm a driven runner.  I set goals. I'm always pushing to run farther or faster.  I probably make it harder than it has to be.  I love sharing this passion with others through my coaching.  But am I addicted?

Well, 8/10 would suggest YES.  Can someone buy me this mug?  I'll fill in the name later.

Is this a bad thing?  I could be addicted to meth or crack or or alcohol or porn or sex.  I think I chose pretty well.   

I'm kidding.  



Daniel Wilson said…
Great article, I've recently been experiencing the same pain in the same location gradually getting worse over the last few months.

Duration/distance has a major factor on the pain for me; read lots about the IT band and things to try (foam roller, stretches, laying off the hardpack, massage, rest) but nothing really seems to work once the miles/time stack up, for me it's around 1 and 1/2 hours or so, anything less than that and it "seems" ok.

It's so frustrating as my fitness has been getting a lot better, I feel great, but this is hindering my progression.

I think I might ask about this injection... perhaps (and I'm just throwing it out there) it's a dietary problem / infection?

Did your injection solve the issue immediately? Did it return?

Thanks for your informative post :)
RunnerMom said…
The injection did solve the issue immediately! I ran without pain for a long time, including a full marathon. The doc told me it would last around 6 months. Sure enough, this past August, the pain and swelling at Gerdy's tubercle returned.

About nutrition--I'm gluten-free already and eat fairly clean, including leafy greens and blueberries (every day!). My diet should be fairly anti-inflammatory.

Osman Vielma said…
Hi. It's great relief to find this article.
Same internet self diagnosis, same picture of swollen knee (Gerdy tubercle).

I don't know what I'am going to do.

I suppose go for the cortisone shot,
but I'm thinking long term.

Cortisone shot every 6 months?

How are you doing?

It's been a year since your last update.

Cheers! and thank you!