Iliotibial or ‘IT’ band pain generally refers to pain or tightness around the outside aspect of the knee. The IT band is a big sheath of connective tissue that runs from above the hip to just below the knee and is part of the lateral support system of the leg. Several hip muscles attach into the IT Band as well as the lateral hamstring and lateral quadriceps.
Pain or tightness along the IT band, at the lateral knee or around the kneecap is common in both the cyclist and runner. Weak lateral hip muscles, a stiff hip joint, tightness in the quadriceps and hamstrings, a weak core or faulty foot mechanics can all be factors contributing to this painful and debilitating dysfunction. Initially, pain or tightness will come on during activity and subside quickly with rest. In a more serious case, pain can become more constant and quite severe leading to forced cessation of activity.
Deal with this problem sooner than later! When painful, inflammation of the sore IT band tissues can be helped by icing and rest. Activities to strengthen the hip like side leg raises, one leg bridge or resistance band exercises can be very helpful. Stretches of the hip and thigh are also generally indicated. Using soft tissue self massage tools like foam rollers in the buttock muscles and along the IT band can also help to loosen tight tissues. More advanced mobility, strength and alignment exercises using fundamental movement patterns like squats, lunges, single leg squat and lateral lunges can be used in rehabilitation but also for prevention.
Although many athletes can develop IT Band pain, the causes are variable and unique to the individual. Evaluation of mobility, flexibility, strength and alignment can be invaluable to sort this nasty problem out. Don’t keep running on a troublesome IT Band or you may end up on the injury roster for a frustratingly long time. Better yet, learn about your personal risk factors before problems develop.
(Originally published in No Limits Blog, 2012)