The iliotibial (IT) band is a thick band of connective tissue that runs along the outside of the knee and up to the outside of the hip. It helps move the hip through extension, lateral rotation, and abduction. It further helps stabilize the knee joint.
However, sports or activities that require constant bending of the knee - such as running - place stress on the IT band, near the knee. When the IT band becomes tight or aggravated at the knee, pain or swelling may arise. This results in a condition called iliotibial (IT) band syndrome - also known as “Runners Knee.”
Signs & Symptoms of IT Band Syndrome
Symptoms of IT band syndrome may vary in intensity and appearance. Commons signs and symptoms include:
- Pain when you run or sometimes during other activities that involve the use of knees
- Pain on the lateral part of the leg
- A popping sensation at the knee
- Aching on the outside of the knee
- Lingering pain after exercise
- Tenderness in the knee
- Tenderness in the buttocks
- Swelling, redness, and warmth on the outer part of the knee
IT band syndrome may start as a mild pain. Yet, the pain intensity may increase if it is ignored or left untreated.
What Causes IT Band Syndrome?
Frequently, IT band syndrome happens from overuse causing tightness and thus, pain. A bursa on the outside of the knee usually aids the IT band in gliding smoothly over the knee joint during movement. But when the IT band becomes tight, it creates friction. As a result, the IT band and bursa may both swell and become aggravated at the knee. Common activities that result in IT band syndrome include:
- A lack of a proper warm-up or cooldown.
- Increasing your duration or intensity too soon.
- Wearing improper footwear.
- Downhill running.
- Running on uneven terrain.
Certain conditions are also more likely to result in IT band syndrome - such as bow legs, arthritis, improper gait patterns, and muscle imbalances or weaknesses.
Treatment for IT Band Syndrome
Iliotibial band syndrome is a painful injury causing inflammation. It’s critical to rest and stop all activities that involve bending of the knee - especially to avoid making it worse. Most people recover from iliotibial band syndrome within 6 weeks (sometimes less). The following can help ease the pain associated with IT band syndrome:
- Ice or Cold Compress: Cold therapy can help reduce inflammation and pain. Ice for 10-15 minutes at a time. And make sure to keep a cloth between the cold device and your skin to prevent skin damage.
- Over-the-Counter Pain Relievers - such as Ibuprofen, Aspirin or Naproxen: These medications can help alleviate initial pain. However, they shouldn’t be taken for longer than 2 weeks. It may be best to consult with your doctor before taking any medication. They know your medical history best and will be able to assess your specific condition properly.
- Foot Pads, Shoe Inserts, and Knee or Ankle Braces: These devices are useful, especially if you have difficulty walking or a discrepancy in leg length (which may be a contributing factor to your injury).
- Stretching, Massage and Foam Rollers: These methods and devices can help reduce tightness, pain, and inflammation. They are also excellent options to help manage your condition at home.
If these basic remedies don’t work, a consultation with your physiotherapist may be necessary. They can assess and provide proper massage or manual techniques, as well as prescribe stretching and strengthening exercises. A therapeutic ultrasound may also be performed to minimize soreness in the affected area.
In severe and persistent cases, your doctor may recommend an injection of corticosteroids. These can help reduce pain and bring down inflammation. In rare cases, surgery may be considered.
As aforementioned, icing can help reduce your pain and swelling associated with IT band syndrome. At Back to Sport, we have various ice therapy devices. Our recommendations include the Vulkan Ice Bag or the Mueller Reusable Hot/Cold Pack. Again, apply the ice device for 10-15 minutes at a time with a cloth in between your skin and the device. Wait at least 45 minutes in between each ice application.
The Jumper Knee Strap
The Mueller Jumper’s Knee Strap is our recommendation. When fastened just above the knee, this brace helps relieve the pain caused by tightness and rubbing of the IT band. While your leg heals, you can wear the brace throughout your regular activities. However, it is still important to avoid activities that cause pain and activities that involve repetitive knee flexion.
Taping is another option for alleviating your symptoms associated with IT band syndrome. We recommend the Gripit - Kinesiology Tape 50mm x 5m in any colour. Choose your style. We further recommend seeking out the help of your physiotherapist or healthcare professional to show you how to effectively tape the area.
Foam rolling is an effective strategy to reduce tightness and release trigger points. When rolling the IT band, place the side of your leg over top of the foam roller. The foam roller should be perpendicular to your leg. Roll back and forth over any tight spots for 1 minute or more. It should feel like a “good” pain. If it doesn’t, stop the activity immediately. Again, having a physiotherapist or a healthcare professional show you how to properly use the foam roller is always a good idea.
At Back To Sports, we have various products to meet your foam rolling needs. We recommend the SKLZ Barrel Roller - Firm, the SKLZ Barrel Roller - Soft, the SKLZ Barrel Roller - Smooth, or the Full Round Foam Rollers - 3 Sizes. The SKLZ Firm addition provides a more intense massage along your IT band. For softer varieties, choose the SKLZ soft or the SKLZ smooth. If you are new to foam rolling, we suggest going with the softer SKLZ.
The information contained in this article is for general information purposes only. The indications provided are not a prescription and cannot substitute the recommendation of a health practitioner. We recommend that you seek the advice of your GP, physiotherapist or health practitioner before buying any item on Back To Sport.