IT band syndrome is a health issue that results in pain on the outside of the knee. While it often affects runners, hikers and cyclists, along with athletes such as basketball and soccer players, it can also manifest in those new to exercise. If you’re experiencing IT band syndrome, the best thing you can do is rest and allow your body to heal. There are also effective stretches and exercises you can do to help you get back to your best, healthiest self.
What Is the IT Band?
Also known as the iliotibial tract, the IT band is a thick, multipurpose band of fascia (connective tissue) that runs down the length of the outer thigh from the top of the pelvis to the shin bone. It connects the hip flexor and gluteus maximus (the largest butt muscle) to the outside of the tibia. The IT band helps to extend, abduct and rotate your hip and is also responsible for keeping your knees and hips stable, particularly during exercises that entail running and jumping.
What Is IT Band Syndrome?
IT band syndrome is an overuse injury that’s common in endurance athletes like runners, hikers and bikers. When you bend and extend your leg, the IT band moves over the lower edge of your thigh bone, and with repeated bending and extending, it can irritate the surrounding tissues. Inflammation and irritation of the IT band often manifests itself as pain on the outside of the knee.
What Causes IT Band Syndrome?
IT band syndrome is caused by excessive friction from the IT band being overly tight and rubbing against bone. It can affect anyone and is especially common in runners, cyclists and hikers, as well as athletes who use their knees such as basketball players, soccer players and weight lifters. Here are some things that can put you at risk of IT band syndrome:
- Pre-existing IT band tightness or prior injury
- Weak hip, gluteal and abdominal muscles
- Weakness or lack of flexibility
- Repetitive activities such as running or cycling
- Knee arthritis
- Prolonged sitting
- Not warming up or cooling down properly
- Pushing yourself harder than you should
- Not taking enough rest between workout days
- Wearing unsuitable/worn out shoes
- Training on the wrong surfaces
- Running downhill
- Increasing training too quickly
- Using poor form during exercises or sports
What Are the Symptoms of IT Band Syndrome?
The most common symptom of IT band syndrome is pain on the outside of the knee (it can affect one or both knees) that gets worse if you continue the activity that’s causing the pain. Here are other symptoms to look out for:
- Aching, burning and tenderness on the outside of your knee
- Sharp pain on the outer knee that can radiate into the outer thigh or calf
- A clicking sensation where the band rubs against the knee
- Lingering pain after exercise
- Tenderness in the knee and buttocks
- Redness and warmth around the knee, especially the outer part
5 Tips to Prevent IT Band Syndrome
1. Take a few days off if you start to feel pain on the outside of your knee
2. Make sure to warm up properly before exercises, for example, walk for 10-15 minutes before you start your runs or a strenuous phase of your exercise routine
3. Replace your shoes regularly, and immediately if they’re worn along the outside of the sole
4. Avoid training on uneven surfaces, such as concrete
5. Use a foam roller after exercise to prevent tightness in your IT band
4 Stretches for IT Band Syndrome
1. Forward Fold with Crossed Legs
Start standing with your feet hip distance apart, crossing your left foot over your right and aligning your pinky toes as much as possible. Extend your arms overhead, then hinge forward from your hips and come into a forward fold. Reach your hands toward the floor, elongating the back of your neck. You can keep your knees slightly bent. Hold for one minute then switch to the other side. This stretch helps relieve tension and tightness along your IT band.
2. Glute Stretch
Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Raise the left foot to the ceiling, then place your left ankle over your bent right knee, turning the shin to the side so it’s perpendicular to your body. Grasp below your right knee, pulling both legs toward your chest. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds and repeat on the other side. This will help release tension in the glutes, which can lead to IT band issues.
3. Cow Face Pose
Sit down with your back straight, bend your left knee and position it at the centre of your body. Draw your left foot in toward your hip and cross your right knee over the left, stacking your knees. Place your right heel and ankle to the outside of your left hip and hold this position up to one minute. For a deeper stretch, walk your hands out in front of you. Repeat on the opposite side. This stretch relieves tightness in the glutes, hips and thighs, improving flexibility and mobility.
4. Foam Roller Stretch
Lie on your right side with your upper thigh resting on the foam roller. Keep your right leg straight and press the bottom of your left foot into the floor for support. Place both hands on the floor for stability, then foam roll down to your knee and back up to your hip. Do this for about five minutes then switch to the other side. This will help release tension, knots and tightness around your IT band.
4 Exercises for IT Band Syndrome
1. Side Leg Raise
Lie on your right side with both legs straight out, pressing your left hand into the floor for support. Raise your left leg 45 degrees, pause for two to five seconds, then lower. Repeat on both sides with 20 to 30 reps on each. You can use an exercise band around your ankles to increase resistance. This targets your core, glutes and hip abductors, which helps improve stability.
2. Hip Thrust
Lie on your back with your arms at your sides, knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Push your heels into the ground and use your glutes to raise your pelvis up until your body forms a straight line from your knees to your shoulders. Lower slowly, and repeat 20 to 30 times.
3. The Clamshell
Lie on your right side with your knees bent at a 45-degree right angle and your hips stacked. Lift your left knee up while keeping your feet together, so that your legs are opening like a clamshell. Repeat on the other side. You can add a resistance band around your knees for more tension. This strengthens your hips and glutes, helping to prevent IT band injury.
4. Lateral Band Walk
Using a resistance band around your ankles, bend your knees slightly and take several steps to one side and then back the other way. Make sure there is good tension. You can also place the band around your thighs and bend your knees a little more, taking bigger steps. This targets your hip abductors and gluteus medius and is beneficial for those who engage in running, jumping, pivoting and twisting.
If you’re struggling with IT band syndrome, try these stretches and exercises to get back to your healthy, un-injured self.