IT Band Syndrome: How To Fix Your IT Band

If you’re an endurance athlete, and clock double-digit miles on the pavement every week, chances are that you’ve experienced IT Band syndrome or some of the symptoms. Iliotibial Band Syndrome (ITBS) is a very common overuse injury that manifests for athletes and can cause quite a bit of knee pain while you’re running turning your 10K into a few disgustingly ugly laps around the college track. If you're experiencing tightness, knee pain, and hip pain during workouts, you’re IT band could be the culprit. Here are some ways you can treat IT band syndrome, so you can get back to your normal routine.

In this article, you will learn
  • What Is the IT Band?
  • What Is IT Band Syndrome?
  • What Causes IT Band Syndrome Pain
  • IT Band Pain Symptoms
  • IT Band Treatment
  • IT Band Stretches

What Is The Iliotibial Band?

The IT Band is a long, thick ligament that runs along the outside of the hip, down the outside of the thigh and knee, which attaches to the top of your shinbone. The IT band is not a muscle and it cannot contract, therefore it does not lengthen, shorten or stretch; it’s pulled by the muscles attached to it and pushed by the vasus laterals or the outer quad. The gluteal or buttock muscle fibers and the tensor fascia latae (muscles of the hip joint) attach to it, and the band acts to coordinate muscle function and stabilize the knee during running. When the attached muscles surrounding the IT band become too tight, you experience IT band pain and IT band pain symptoms in other connected areas of the body.

What does the IT band do? One of the main functions of the IT band is to help stabilize the knee. When the muscles attached to the IT band become constricted, it creates tension, which then causes friction and compression of the knee. This added friction leads to swelling and inflammation, which can cause severe pain on the outside of the knee. That severe knee pain is called Iliotibial Band Syndrome (ITBS).

What Is IT Band Syndrome?

IT Band Syndrome pain can be felt in a variety of areas throughout the leg, mainly the knee and the hip. There are a couple ways that IT Band Syndrome can manifest itself, through recurring knee injuries and a lack of mobility. For endurance athletes, this means that the kinetic chain is off, and similar to when one link in a chain breaks the whole chain malfunctions. 

IT Band Syndrome Pain Symptoms:

  • Severe Knee Pain
  • Tightness In Hips
  • Tightness And Loss Of Flexibility
  • Pain When The Knee Is Bent

What Causes IT Band Pain?

  • Running Downhill
  • Running on a sloped side of the road, which can tilt your hips and attribute to misalignment creating body imbalances
  • Training on banked surfaces
  • Improper training techniques
  • Old or unsuitable footwear
  • Not stretching
  • Ramping up workouts too quickly

IT Band Syndrome Treatments

Most of us treat IT band syndrome like any other injury. Take a few days off, pop some ibuprofen, strap your shoes on and try again. But as soon as you get back to hitting the pavement, your knee still hurts; with severe debilitating pain and your hip mobility has only gotten worse. IT Band pain can be extremely frustrating, especially for athletes who are used to running several times per week.

IT band syndrome isn’t like other minor injuries. If you want to get back to running or your normal programming, you need to be proactive with aggressive injury treatment. Confront the underlying issues such as tightness and weakness in the muscles attached to the IT band. This will help correct for any imbalances, which can cause further detriment to your IT band. Coming from personal experience, the longer you wait for it to heal on its own, or if you think you can run through the pain, think again. Take some initiative, and implement IT Band treatments, vigorously and as soon as possible. Otherwise, your It Band Pain will continue.

IT Band Treatment: Stop Running 

If your IT band hurts, then listen to your body and stop. Running exacerbates IT band syndrome and the associated acute pain. Take a few days off, take an ice bath, get a massage and proceed with the following treatment continuum.

IT Band Treatment: Run On A Flat Surface

Try running the middle of the road to avoid any slopes or improper surface alignment.

IT Band Treatment: Foam Rolling

Foam rolling helps with the mobility of fascia. Without proper mobility, fibers of the fascia can constrict the normal range of motion, further causing imbalances and flaring IT band symptoms.

Furthermore, mobility can be restricted by scar tissue, as new layers of fascia are created due to IT band injury and inflammation. If this issue is not properly treated, mobilized and aligned, it can create future injuries and prolonged recovery. 

IT Band Treatment: Vasus Laterals Release

Lie on one side, with a foam roller under your bottom leg halfway between your hip and knee.

Slide your leg up and down along the foam roller, moving it from the top of the knee to the base of the hip, trying to work over the more tender areas.

Repeat for 30-second to two-minute intervals.

To focus on a specific area of the IT band, locate the most tender area with the foam roller and stop. Bend your knee at a 90-degree angle, and then straighten. Repeat motion of bending and straightening the knee for 10 to 15 seconds. Switch sides.

4 Effective IT Band Stretches To Reduce IT Band Pain

Performing the following IT Band stretches will help build and stabilize the attached glute muscles and hip flexors to avoid It Band injury.

IT Band Stretches: Side-Lying Iliotibial Band Stretch

  1. Lie on your side with your affected knee on top.
  2. Bend your top knee and grab your ankle. You should feel a tightness in your quadriceps muscle with this.
  3. Pull back a bit, and then place your bottom foot on the side of your top knee.
  4. Gently pull the foot on your knee down towards the floor, elongating the outside part of your top thigh.
  5. You should feel a stretch in the side of your knee where the IT band crosses the knee.
  6. Hold the stretch for 15 to 20 seconds, and then release.
  7. Repeat 3 to 5 times.

IT Band Stretches: Seated Hip Iliotibial Band Stretch

A great stretch for your ITB and your hip and piriformis is the seated hip rotation stretch. Here is how you do it:

  1. Sit with your legs extended out in front of you.
  2. Cross the involved (hurting) leg over your other leg, bending your knee and placing your foot flat on the floor.
  3. Rotate your body to look over the shoulder on the involved side until you feel a stretch.
  4. Hold for 30 seconds.
  5. Repeat four more times.

IT Band Stretches: Standing Iliotibial Band Stretch

The standing ITB stretch is a good one because it can be done anywhere — at home or the office, or at the gym before working out. You can lean on a wall for balance if it is easier. Here is how you do it:

  1. Stand upright.
  2. Cross the involved (hurting) leg BEHIND the opposite leg.
  3. Lean to the uninvolved side (away from the sore side) until you feel a stretch across the affected iliotibial band.
  4. Hold for 30 seconds.
  5. Uncross your legs and stand up straight again.
  6. Repeat four more times.

Some people feel a stretch in the area of their hip where the ITB arises, while others feel tightness at their knee during this stretch.

IT Band Stretches: Knee To Opposite Shoulder

Here is a relaxing stretch to round out your ITB stretching routine:

  1. Lie on your back.
  2. Bend the knee of the involved (hurting) leg.
  3. Grasp behind the bent leg's knee with both hands and pull the involved leg toward the opposite shoulder.
  4. Hold for 30 seconds.
  5. Relax your leg.
  6. Repeat four more times.

IT Band Syndrome: The Takeaway

IT Band Syndrome is no joke. The pain is very sharp, debilitating and can be extremely frustrating when you’re training or just out for a casual jog. If you want to get back to the track and get rid of your IT band pain, then implement the IT Band stretches, and IT Band treatment we listed above as soon as possible. The longer you wait, the worse it will get and the more frustrated you’ll become.

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