Swipe to the left

Getting Your Stride Back after IT Band Syndrome

By Ellie Ovsenik April 16, 2018

If you’re a runner, a cyclist, a hiker or just a generally active person, you may experience knee pain from time to time. Sometimes that pain can be put in the category of “regular soreness,” but when it starts to be persistent, it could be a symptom of something more. And if your pain seems to be concentrated on the outside of your knee, it could actually be caused by something called Iliotibial Band Syndrome (ITBS).

What is Iliotibial Band Syndrome?

The basic definition? It’s when your iliotibial band (IT band)—the muscle tissue that runs down the outside of your leg—is inflamed. Your IT band helps stabilize your hip, thigh and the surrounding muscles in your leg, which makes running, biking and generally staying upright possible. And when it becomes aggravated and inflamed, you can experience some nagging pain symptoms.

According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, ITBS is “a common knee injury that usually presents as lateral knee pain [pain on the side of your knee] caused by inflammation.” And that inflammation is caused by friction—when you bend and straighten your knee your IT band slides across your knee, and your IT band is tight, the friction can cause your IT band to swell. But, as confusing as it may seem, symptoms of ITBS aren’t just confined to your knee; because the IT band runs the length of each leg from hip to shin, you may feel the pain in your hip (with or without the knee pain).

What Causes ITBS?

Many active adults are plagued with IT band problems. If you enjoy daily running or biking, you have a higher chance of developing ITBS, since overuse is the biggest culprit. But overuse isn’t the only reason people experience ITBS. If you spend a prolonged period of time in the same position (like at a desk or squatting and kneeling), or you’ve started a new workout routine, you could also be at risk. Most of the time, it’s not working out that’s the problem, it’s when you don’t work out properly.

Not stretching enough or not maintaining your strength can lead to tight muscles or weak hips. When some of your muscles are affected, your entire running form can break down. The longer you run with bad form, tight muscles or even the wrong shoes, the more stress the IT band takes on.

There are also a few physical conditions that can put you at higher risk of developing ITBS, like:

    • Knee arthritis
    • Bowed legs
    • Rotating your leg, foot or ankle inward as you walk or run
    • Muscle weakness (especially in abs, glutes and hips)

How Can You Tell If Your Pain Is from IT Band Syndrome?

Knee pain happens from time to time. But how can you tell if your knee pain is an issue? General soreness is a ‘symptom’ of staying active, but there is a fine line between being sore and being injured.

If you’re experiencing the following symptoms, you may be suffering from ITBS:

    • Continually sore and swollen knees after an activity
    • Sharp pain on the outside, bony part of your knee
    • Tightness and pain in your hip
    • Swelling on the outside of your knee

ITBS can do more than disrupt your exercise routine; if untreated, ITBS can prevent you from comfortably bending and straightening your knees. Using stairs can become a daily issue, and it may affect your overall gait as well. Luckily, once diagnosed, there are a number of steps you can take to improve your ITBS and reverse the inflammation and negative effects.

But First: Find a Professional

ITBS can be difficult to pinpoint, which means if you’re experiencing some of the above symptoms, you’re going to want to consult with a healthcare professional. A professional can help you determine if you’re suffering from ITBS, the cause and the right plan of attack to help you find relief. You can find a hands-on healthcare professional near you by using the Professional Finder. For a detailed search by body part or objective (or even various healthcare professional types), enter your zip code and click “Continue.” Be sure each professional you see knows what other care you're using so all of your treatments complement each other.

How to Combat IT Band Syndrome

Since many of the issues causing ITBS are associated with weakness and instability, strengthening the muscles around your IT band can help you find relief. It’s even been shown that strengthening your hips and glutes can help individuals significantly reduce ITBS symptoms. So where should you begin?

Start With Strength

One great way to start building back your strength is with a resistance band routine! Because resistance bands are portable and come in different levels, you can do your exercises wherever it’s convenient. Look for one that is easy to use, like the TheraBand® CLX™. Try these three strengthening exercises from the Performance Health Academy to get on the path to being pain-free.

Hip Abductor Strengthening Exercise

  1. Secure your TheraBand CLX resistance band to a sturdy, stable piece of furniture.
  2. Standing next to the furniture, place the outside foot (farthest from the furniture) through a loop in the CLX (at ankle level) that provides tension when standing.
  3. With your hands on your hips, slowly move your foot away from your body’s center as far as you can go.
  4. Hold it in this position for two seconds before bringing it slowly back to center. Do not move your foot forward or behind your body and concentrate on keeping your foot in line with your body’s center throughout the entire motion.
  5. Start with one round of ten reps and increase the frequency to three rounds of ten reps over time.
  6. Remember to switch legs after each round.

Hip Extensor Strengthening Exercise

  1. Secure your TheraBand CLX resistance band to a sturdy, stable piece of furniture.
  2. Standing in front of the furniture, place one foot in a loop of the CLX (at ankle height) that provides resistance when standing.
  3. Without bending at the waist, move that foot behind your body in a straight line.
  4. Hold your foot for at least two seconds at the furthest point away from your body before slowly bringing it back to center.
  5. Start with one round of ten reps and increase the frequency to three rounds of ten reps over time.
  6. Remember to switch legs after each round.

Gluteus Medius Strengthening Exercise

This exercise is similar to the hip extension exercise above. But, instead of moving your foot straight back, instead move it at a 45-degree angle.

  1. Secure your TheraBand CLX resistance band to a sturdy, stable piece of furniture.
  2. Standing in front of the furniture, place one foot (at ankle level) through a loop in the CLX that provides resistance while standing.
  3. Without bending at the waist, move that foot behind your body at a forty-five degree angle.
  4. Hold your foot for at least two seconds at the furthest point before slowly bringing it back to center.
  5. Start with one round of ten reps and increase frequency to three rounds of ten reps over time.
  6. Remember to switch legs after each round.

As you progress through your resistance band strength-building routine, you can change the resistance levels by moving to the next level in the CLX progression to provide a greater challenge.

Work on Flexibility

Tight muscles are as dangerous as weak muscles. Even beyond general stretching, there are several tools to help you work on your flexibility and uninhibited movement.

In a recent study, it was found that using a foam roller help the IT band to become more flexible. Researchers would like to explore this more, but stretching and foam rolling are two ways to get back to a full stride.

With Stretches

Stretching before and after exercise can help you keep your muscles in shape. Toe touches and active warm-ups are helpful, but you might need to pay extra attention to how much you are stretching if you are having problems with ITBS

Here’s one stretch you can do to help work on flexibility.

  1. Stand up and cross the leg that u are stretching behind the other. Try to place both feet flat on the ground.
  2. On the side you are stretching, lift your arm overhead. Slowly lean away that side.
  3. Hold the stretch and slowly return.
  4. Pro tip: Don't hold your breath while performing this stretch.

With Rollers

There has been some debate on whether or not foam rolling is helpful. Since the IT band is a connective tissue and not muscle, foam-rolling may not provide long-term relief, but it has been shown to provide short term flexibility benefits.

Try using a foam roller, like the TheraBand foam roller, for a way to massage your IT band.

  1. Find a relatively open area with a decent amount of floor space.
  2. Begin in a side-lying position across the Thera-Band Foam Roller with Wrap with bottom elbow, forearm and top hand & foot all planted firmly on the ground.
  3. Gently roll body weight back and forth across the Roller.

You can also use a handheld roller, like a TheraBand roller massager for controlled massage depth. Much like foam rolling, this tool is great for myofascial release and deep tissue massage.

  1. Sitting on a floor or bench, grasp both ends of the Theraband Roller Massager+ so that ridged roller is positioned across the outside thigh your bent leg.
  2. Gently roll the Massager+ up and down along the path of IT Band, controlling the depth by changing the amount of pressure placed on the tissue.
  3. To increase the release of a specific region of the IT Band, work shorter, deeper strokes with intermittent periods of sustained pressure.

Try Topical Pain Relievers

Beyond stretching and foam rolling, you can also reduce pain with a topical pain reliever. While you are strengthening and stretching your muscles, you may still experience some discomfort. When it comes to knee pain from ITBS or elsewhere, a topical pain reliever like Biofreeze® Pain Reliever can be used to find relief, no matter where you are. Topical pain relievers function much like ice, using a cooling sensation to help block pain signals from reaching the brain. So you can do your exercises and stretches, then apply Biofreeze and get relief.

Be Patient with Yourself

Recovery can be a long and stressful process, but your body is worth investing in. If you want to continue being active for the long haul, taking proper care of the your muscle and correcting those issues now will give you your stride back. After strengthening your IT band and focusing on flexibility, your activity might be even better than ever before.

This won’t happen overnight. Be patient with yourself and find out what works for you. It’s your body and your process, so take the time to do it the right way.