the smell of my desperation has become a stench

This was the noise you heard last night

In all the reading I’ve done about IT band syndrome, the one therapy that keeps coming up is the foam roller. More technically, it is “a self-myofascial release technique to improve soft tissue extensibility.” I just got hot and bothered typing that.

Self-myofascial? Yes, please.

I bought this monster when I was training for the marathon:

I call it a monster because it has no mercy whatsoever. Most foam rollers are foamy. I mean, it is in the name (the multivitamins are working you guys, I AM SO ON IT). They squish and give a little as you place it underneath your leg and roll back and forth on a particular muscle, your body weight forcing that muscle against the roller and causing it to relax. That sounds so simple and easy, as if you’re just lying there sipping a martini and scratching your balls and reading Twilight.

But for those of you familiar with this therapy you know it’s so incredibly painful, excruciating even, especially when your roller isn’t foamy (see monster above). The sounds that come out of your face when you’re forcing a tight muscle against that surface, dear lord. Not safe for work or small children or mature audiences.

Compared to the moan that travels up from a tight muscle into my throat and erupts into incoherent profanity, a pig being gutted alive would sound like a lullaby.

Yesterday I attempted a spin class — yes, I know I’m not supposed to and I’m defying my doctor’s orders and you go right ahead and tell on me, INSERT A FACE WITH A TONGUE STICKING OUT — and it was the magnificent mistake he told me it would be. I made it 34 minutes on that bike, and then my right knee gave out. NOTE: My right knee is not the injured knee. In fact, the left knee, the actual injured knee doesn’t hurt anymore. Excuse me while I girl out on your for a second: OH EM JEE. SHUT UP. Like, this can’t be happening. Pass the chips.

So I got on that roller last night, placed it underneath my right thigh, and prayed that I wouldn’t die. (I just typed “praid.” I take it back. Those multivitamins are shit.) And the pain, whoa. So unbearable, and I cannot take responsibility for the words I said in front of my children. Leta just stared at me from across the room and said, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” And I was like, oh, you know. Taking a pottery class.

Marlo on the other hand ran over immediately, climbed onto the side of my body and shouted, “Go for a ride!” Is that cute, or what? I can say that now with a little bit of distance and perspective because right then my instinct was to buck her off of me. Instinct/actual thing I did. I only threw her a few feet in the air. Her lip is okay today.

  • luv and kiwi

    2012/01/12 at 1:16 pm

    Heather (insert middle name) Armstrong! Do not defy your doc! I promise you’ll get better. If you take it easy you’ll be better in the long run. PROMISE!

  • Daddy Scratches

    2012/01/12 at 1:25 pm

    And here I was thinking that the noise I heard last night was a pig being gutted alive. Thanks for clearing that up. (I’d tell you that you should listen to your doctor, but that would be obnoxious and, from the sound of it, unnecessary.)

  • lisdom

    2012/01/12 at 1:27 pm

    Does your gym have a pool? Surely you can get those endorphins doing something a little less taxing on your joints? Meanwhile, hang in there.

  • smithie1996

    2012/01/12 at 1:27 pm

    Oh the Pillar of Pain. Those foam rollers are the absolute worst. I was on one at the gym the other day and I looked like a beached whale. I tried to keep the screaming at a minimum so as to not scare every last person in the entire JCC complex.

  • waitimaprincess

    2012/01/12 at 1:42 pm

    What is it with the downonthefloorness of an adult that makes toddlers think jungle gym? Ugh. And DUH the hell is wrong with you defying the doctor who has gone to medical school and is all smart and stuff (as I swig mah vodka that this prescription label clearly says do not imbibe. Fuck off, prescription label, this is fun). What is NOT fun, as I’m sure you’ve realized, is causing yourself more pain. So stop. And pass the damn chips back.

  • GingerPeach

    2012/01/12 at 1:51 pm

    OH MY GOD. My trainer made me do this this morning on my legs. It looked so soft and comfortable in concept! And then I rolled on it and the pain was almost unbearable. But when I stood up, I felt like I was 13 again – it was absolutely amazing. I’m buying on for home!! Good luck – I hope all your injuries get better – can you do pilates? That’s low impact/high results!

  • carmen

    2012/01/12 at 1:52 pm

    You should check out this site,, for more ways to torture yourself using “foam” rollers. The guy who created it is the founder of San Francisco Crossfit and he is awesome!!!

  • dianemaggipintovoiceover

    2012/01/12 at 1:53 pm

    it’s SO awesome when your readers tell you what to do, isn’t it? so i’ll be a lemming —

    the more you do it, like 2x a day, the less it hurts, the more it stretches, lather, rinse, repeat.

    but fuck yeah it hurts. i KNOW that sound. my knee regularly feels like it’s about to explode before it “cracks” and adjusts and i feel like a hundred bucks again.

  • sparkling175

    2012/01/12 at 1:57 pm

    My entire excercise regime these days is correcting for imbalances so I can manage my IT band tightness. So yes, the foam roller is a recommendation, but I’ve found strenghtening the glutes to be much more effective. It’s not easy targeting the right ones sometimes, but it’s worth trying. As an added bonus I no longer have “shanks” – the kind term my grandmother uses for when your back runs straight down into your legs. Think “cow.”

  • abredro

    2012/01/12 at 2:27 pm

    Dude. Is Zach Efron on the bike in front of you waving his butt in the air or something? Because that is the only reason I can think that you would go to one of those god awful spin classes, only to injure yourself, every. damn. time.

  • KatieKat484

    2012/01/12 at 2:37 pm

    here’s a less painful idea for IT Band issues: Ice massages. I’m sure you REALLY want readers to tell you what to do, so here ya go. I had this done 3 times a week at physical therapy when I LOST THE ABILITY TO WALK because my ITB sucks.
    Take those little bathroom sized dixie cups, fill them with water, and freeze. Once frozen, peel back some of the cup to better expose the ice, and rub away. THEN use the foam roller if you must. You won’t feel a thing, and the inflammation in your ITB less.
    Good luck and STAY OF THE SPIN BIKE!

  • taylor

    2012/01/12 at 2:54 pm

    i would have gone to spin class too. i chalk it up to being addicted to the endorphins that a workout can produce. i am not the same person without my endorphins.

    try swimming to get a good workout in. they have something called a pull buoy that you put between your legs to keep them floating while you use your arms to swim….this is assuming you can swim.

    good luck!

  • Bea_OT

    2012/01/12 at 4:01 pm

    Hmm… I haven’t tried said foam roller. I’m for the tennis balls. Put one in a sock, put another in the other…then tie the socks together. Place balls on muscle knots, press till it feels mildly painful, but not excruciating. Then breathe, while letting your body weight relax around the balls. (This is starting to sound funny, but you stop being juvenile…or was that me?).

    Anyway, the key is not to push too hard. If your pain level goes too high, you actually end up tensing your muscles again and compounding the problem. This means you develop knots from the therapy. Not exactly the goal.

    Keep the pressure at a reasonable level, so you can keep your muscles relaxed. As you press, relax your muscle, when the pain eases, press a little harder. Repeat this process until you can’t press without torturous pain.

    Also this is not a race, go slow. Your muscle needs time to relax. The slow, deep touch releases muscles and fast, light touch makes them contract.

    When you’re done with the balls (no laughing), put an ice pack on the site to reduce swelling. Actually, you should do this whole thing after a nice soak in the tub, because heat relaxes the muscles, making it easier for you to relax the knots in the first place.

    How do I know this? I’m an occupational therapist with 15 years experience, plus I suffer from fibromyalgia…which causes my muscles to twist into knots all over my body. I have 14 years of experience dealing with that craziness.

    Oh…don’t just focus on the main area of pain. By now, you probably have smaller knots surrounding those. Also look for knots in the lower leg and butt…yep I said butt.

    Oh. When you start to loosen the muscle, the right low impact exercise can further loosen it…thus why you felt better after spinning…though that’s not the exercise I recommend.

    The other knee gave out because you’re over using it to compensate for the one that’s hurting.

    Okay that’s enough free advice. I charge $10 dollars per letter; )

  • hoosiergirl1962

    2012/01/12 at 4:31 pm

    Alright, massage therapist weighing in now. Use some heat BEFORE you use the roller or you are just going to create MORE inflammation than less. THEN, finish off with ice. Always start with heat and finish with ice. The IT band is basically a tendon, covered with fascia, which is the sticky stuff that basically covers all your muscles. Inflammation happens and the sticky stuff (fascia) becomes hard, like candlewax, and creates those lumps and bumps that are so painful. So, to settle it down, you have to make it liquid again, which calls for heat….So, Im suggesting

    Slow down and go get a massage….

  • workroom

    2012/01/12 at 7:33 pm

    IMO it is safe to say you are not the valedictorian of smart decisions…

    spin class? really??
    OMG Jon must B like ROTF-WTF

  • Mommaschmoop

    2012/01/13 at 3:59 am

    Heather! NO SPIN CLASS!! I am a nurse and I know what I am talking about. Okay, I’m a psych nurse so perhaps this isn’t my area of expertise. HOWEVER, I do have 2 problem knees! I used to have one, until I decided to go ice skating last week (also against Dr.’s advice) and now my “good” knee is the one I am currently limping on. Apparently we are both just stubborn asses. I say we make a New Year’s resolution to listen to our respective physicians this year. Or at least not do the EXACT OPPOSITE of what they tell us. Yup…I’m probably still going to do whatever I want to and you are too. Hopeless, dude. We are just hopeless.

    Feel better!!

  • Palesa

    2012/01/13 at 7:01 am

    I have had IT band issues for years too and I feel your pain…also the roller (I have one lurking in my lounge as we speak, I really should roll today as my left knee is aching after a short walk/run, but AGH the pain…)

    I find at the start, when everything’s super tender, rolling isn’t as bad if you support most of your body weight on your elbows (on a cushion to support them – I use my meditation cushion to support me) and if it’s really sore, wrap a towel round the foam roller at the start, so it doesn’t hurt so bad. Then when you’re more used to the roller you can take the towel off and enjoy the full benefit 🙂

    but yes, it’s going to hurt. But it will get easier if you do it twice a day. Good luck and hopefully you’re back to full fitness soon!

  • TheScarlett

    2012/01/13 at 9:18 am

    My husband had a pretty serious knee issue which required surgery. He is a very, very, very good tennis player who did not want to eventually need to succumb to a knee replacement. That was the carrot that he needed to follow the instructions of his doctor. One of the things he learned through physical therapy is that he had to not only work on the injured knee but also the knee that was not injured. The reason for that is that one naturally starts to favor the injured knee and then stresses the good knee. His surgery was over three years ago and yet he still works with a sports medicine trainer twice a week. He will wear a brace the rest of his life when he plays tennis but at least he can play and he hasn’t needed that bionic knee. All of that is to say that you have to think of the long term results rather than the short term; you’ll appreciate this analogy when I say it is a marathon and not a sprint.

  • alevai

    2012/01/13 at 9:45 am

    Oh em effing jee, that was hilarious. Hope your knee feels better soon.

  • trewqaz

    2012/01/13 at 11:49 am

    I have no good advice that you haven’t already heard (probably a million times), but as a fellow IT Band Syndrome sufferer, ach I can so relate!

    My doctor put me on prescription NSAIDs and a muscle relaxer for a month to get me over the worst of the therapy. I usually avoid meds, but I got tired of crying when I was awake or asleep. All of my dreams were literally about breaking my back and I would wake up every morning in a fog looking for my wheel chair.

    Good luck! For me at least, it did get better! I have definitely adapted my lifestyle to accommodate the ITBS – no running up hills for me anymore, although riding a bike and swimming don’t give me any problems.

  • yrdsale4me

    2012/01/13 at 2:11 pm

    Doing the *release yourself is good, but I’d recommend seeing a good massage therapist also. As someone else said, the trigger points you’re releasing have most likely created lots of satellite ones. They’ll all crank back up (re-form) at the drop of a hat at this point. It would be a good idea to have the help of an experienced massage therapist until this problem is under control. Then you can keep it in check yourself. I know how much myofascial release and other soft tissue therapy hurts because I have fibromyalgia, connective tissue disease, and chronic myofascial pain, all of which cause me to have nasty trigger points all over my body. Every week for the last 10 years or so, I’ve had deep tissue massage and chiropractic treatment just to keep me functioning. This kind of massage is NOT fun or cheap, but it’s necessary for some of us.

    *Remember to drink a lot of water after using your foam roller or having any kind of soft tissue therapy. You need to flush out the toxins that have been released, plus it’s good for you.

  • Daisy

    2012/01/13 at 2:25 pm

    I think the foam roller is a waste of time. I took nearly a year off from racing due to an IT band. I had been having IT band pain for almost 5 years. I started doing a yoga class once a week and adding some of the twisting postures to my cool down streching. I haven’t had even a twinge of pain in over a year and I’m doing 40 miles a week right now. The yoga helped strech the connective tissues, the nerves in my legs and strengthened the weak muscles… and it helped give me the workout high I need.

  • HankySpanky

    2012/01/13 at 5:12 pm

    The photo alone makes me cringe. I do not have fond memories of the foam roller from physical therapy. Maybe you should try a Bar Method class? It’s very easy on the joints and gives you a full body workout. 🙂

  • vickievictoria

    2012/01/16 at 11:49 am

    When the IT band started to act up for me, people told me that using the foam roller would get easier. I’m still convinced that they were lying to me, because it was agony every time I tried to use it. And it’s still that way when it flares up.

    Yoga/pilates helps, but the big thing that kept me able to continue to work on my marathon training once the ITB started being awful was getting a really good sports massage once a month (once every three weeks once my mileage went up). It’s still painful having the massage therapist really go to town on the ITB, but they’re able to pinpoint what needs to be worked on and it felt so much better after. I wouldn’t have been able to run my marathon if I hadn’t had that coupled with ITB stretches, icing, and ibuprofen.

  • tommykirchhoff

    2012/01/25 at 12:48 pm

    Healing Exercise hits major TV !

Heather B. Armstrong

Hi. I’m Heather B. Armstrong, and this used to be called mommy blogging. But then they started calling it Influencer Marketing: hashtag ad, hashtag sponsored, hashtag you know you want me to slap your product on my kid and exploit her for millions and millions of dollars. That’s how this shit works. Now? Well… sit back, buckle up, and enjoy the ride.

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