How to Recognize and Treat IT Band Syndrome

If you lead a very active lifestyle involving loads of running, cycling, or climbing, chances are good that you’ve heard of IT Band Syndrome, or Iliotibial Band Syndrome. IT Band Syndrome is a relatively common “overuse” injury which occurs most often in long distance runners and people who regularly partake in activity that involves n continuous inward turning of the leg.

Athletes who experiment with pace increases, hill work, and high mileage are often at risk for developing IT Band Syndrome. The good news? There are ways to prevent IT Band Syndrome, as well as naturally treat it without pharmacological or surgical intervention.

IT Band Syndrome

What is IT Band Syndrome?

Bio-mechanically speaking, the IT band is a thick, fibrous band of tissue that extends from the hip down the side of the thigh to the shin. With overuse, that band can become inflamed and tight, rubbing against bony parts of the leg (like the knee) with painful friction. The IT band plays an important role in helping to stabilize the knee joint and allow for its fluid movement.

Risk factors for IT Band Syndrome include:

Wearing old shoes – old, worn out running shoes that alter your own pronation and don’t support your arch and ankle well can cause your running form to suffer, leading to IT Band Syndrome

Weak hip muscles – prolonged sitting, lack of targeted stretching and exercise of the hip, core, and back muscles, as well as genetics can play a role in weakening hip muscles that cause added strain to connect ligaments like the IT band

Running on slope terrain – continuous and repeated running or walking on sloped terrain and that requires your foot to slant and the pelvis to tilt to one side can place undue stress on the IT band and cause it to tighten and swell

Improper gait – poor form when walking and running can also result from excessively rotating the thigh inwards. This causes the IT band to painfully rub over the lateral epicondyle of the femur.

How Can You Prevent IT Band Syndrome?

Before picking up any intense regular exercise, familiarize yourself with the proper pace, gait, and speed required to safely and successfully execute it so that an issue like IT Band Syndrome doesn’t develop. Start small and take routine, consistent steps towards building up mileage, pace, and endurance – this will gradually help you hone muscle strength and recognize your body’s own limits.

Running is considered a “high impact” activity because it places so much shock and pressure on the body, especially the feet, legs, and knees. When it comes to running, cycling, and climbing, prevent IT Band Syndrome with these helpful tips and resources:

Invest in Compression Garments

To ensure that you don’t fall prey to IT Band Syndrome in the first place, consider wearing compression garments like knee sleeves or IT band straps. Click here for a list of the best knee braces for sports. These garments help to keep the IT band in place as well as boost blood circulation and support fluid knee joint movement. If you suspect that you may be developing IT Band Syndrome, wearing a compression aid may help prevent it from getting worse.

Strengthen your hip muscles

Incorporate exercises which build up the hip and gluteal muscle groups to both prevent and recover from IT Band Syndrome. Exercise moves such as side leg raises, clam shells, hip thrusts, side hip bridges, side shuffle, hip hike and pistol squats can be done without equipment and in the comfort of your own home. Aim for at least 10-20 reps of each exercise to really hone the strength and tone of your hips and glutes.

Massage Therapy

Deep tissue massage can go a long way to helping relieve muscle tension and tendon stiffness associated with IT Band Syndrome. A massage therapist will be able to apply pressure and knead the tight tissues in your hips, legs, and knees to boost circulation and flush out built up toxins and waste byproducts. Massaging your IT band and knees after each intense run yourself might also help keep connective tissues pliable and loose.

Stretch with Foam Rollers

While dynamic stretching before a run (i.e. with jump squats) can help warm your muscles up, static stretching after can help reorganize jumbled tissue fibers and speed up muscle recovery. Stretching props like foam rollers can aid your warm-ups and cool-down stretches, helping to break up scar tissue and boost blood flow to vulnerable areas.

Incorporate More Cross-Training

Switching up your daily running routine with one or two days a week of cross-training can help ease up on the stress regular running places on your joints, as well as incorporate variety into your training regimen. Great cross-training activities for runners include:

  • Cycling – biking regularly even and sloping terrain, like on roadways or sidewalks, not mountain trails, provides a moderate intensity workout for the legs and heart that generates less strain on the knees.
  • Rowing – you might thinking rowing is simply an arm workout, but when you train with a rowing machine for example, you’ll find you engage almost all the key muscle groups including the legs, core, back, and arms.
  • Hiking – take a break from running on the road and switch into hiking boots for a low-impact activity that benefits your body and mind. Walking in nature has been shown to boost positive moods and attentiveness, plus navigating mountain terrain hones balance, coordination, and problem-thinking skills.
  • Rollerblading – while prepped for injury with a helmet and elbow/knee pads, rollerblading can be a fun and safe way to cross-train. Mastering good form and posture with rollerblading can benefit your running technique, and the leg workout with minimal joint stress is a plus too.
  • Swimming – the weightlessness of swimming makes it one of the top-cross training activities that helps to keep muscles toned while giving your joints a break. Pool running has also been shown to benefit distance runners and cyclists.

Final Considerations
IT Band Syndrome definitely does not have to be a death sentence for your running or cycling hobby. By being aware of early warning signs and taking smart precautions, you can prevent major injury and avoid knee pain for good!