6 Ways Athletes Can Manage Iliotibial (IT) Band Syndrome
Knee injuries involving the Iliotibial (IT) band syndrome can affect athletes in varied sports. It is a common repetitive strain injury that causes pain on the side of the knee, and it can be maddeningly stubborn. Read on to learn more about its causes and how to move through it. We'll cover the following topics:
WHAT IS RUNNER'S KNEE?
PREVENTION & MANAGEMENT
Experts have a few theories why IT bands can become irritated and painful. We have the facts on how to manage IT band issues.
WHAT IS RUNNER'S KNEE?
The Iliotibial (IT) band is a fibrous band of connective tissue that runs along the outside of the thigh from the hip to the knee and tibia. The ITB is a unique connective tissue structure with some properties of a tendon, others of a ligament, and a unique tension control system. The IT band allows your hips to extend, abduct, and rotate while stabilizing your knees.
Iliotibial band syndrome (ITBS), also called "Runner's Knee," can plague runners, cyclists, and many other types of athletes. It can also be caused as an aftermath of knee surgery.
IT pain can be confused with another common knee condition called patellofemoral pain. These can be similar, but you can usually tell the difference simply by the location of the pain.
IT band pain is always on the outward-facing side of the knee. It's at or just above the prominent bump of bone (lateral epicondyle). Someone suffering from IT pain can pinpoint the pain's exact location with precision.
IT band pain can be sharp pain or burning. That spot will be sensitive to poking pressure. The pain will be superficial on the side of the knee joint, not in it.
ITBS typically affects the outside of the knee but can also cause pain in the hip, thigh, or calf. The pain is often worse when you bend your knee, such as when going up or down stairs, and is often accompanied by swelling and stiffness.
You can have iliotibial band syndrome in one leg, or you can have it in both legs. When you have ITBS in both legs, it's called bilateral iliotibial band syndrome.
ITBS is an overuse injury. About 7-14% of runners will have ITBS at some point. Sports like skiing, soccer, tennis, pickleball, and others also see IT issues.
Researchers are still debating the exact cause of ITBS. The pain may be caused by friction as the IT band moves over the lower outer edge of the thighbone. This may lead to inflammation in the area's bone, tendons, and tiny, fluid-filled sacs. The iliotibial band may also abnormally compress the tissue beneath it, causing pain.
Usually, there is an overuse event that begins this issue, but it's usually not going to be sudden pain like an ankle sprain. It can flare up at times of extreme overuse and sometimes will exacerbate within minutes or hours of the overuse.
Weak hip muscles can contribute to ITBS as well as excessive foot pronation. If your foot naturally rotates outward, this motion will stretch the IB band. If your legs slope inward (bowlegged) or if you have an uneven gait, this can lead to IT issues. If your tibia is twisted (internal tibia torsion) inward toward your body, that can pull on your IT band.
Don't ignore the pain. Inflammation can continue, and scarring may develop in the bursa (soft tissue sac underneath the IT band), decreasing knee range of motion. This can affect both your stride and the fluid movement of your knee.
PREVENTION & MANAGEMENT
Fortunately, there are several things that athletes can do to manage IT band syndrome and keep pain at bay. Most experts recommend rest for any overuse injury. Here are six more tips:
Stretch and strengthen the muscles around the IT band. Due to its thick, tough nature, you can't stretch or elongate the actual IT band. However, you can loosen up the nearby muscles, which include the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and hip abductors. Strong muscles will help take some of the strain off the IT band.
Use a foam roller on the IT band area. This can help to release tension and knots in the muscle if you have mild tightness in the IT band area. Lay with the side of your hip directly on the foam roller. Supporting your upper body, slowly pull your leg back and forth over the roller from your hip to your knee and back. This is key for IT band knee pain treatment.
Use compression to improve circulation. Improving circulation and blood flow to the affected areas can reduce pain and inflammation while promoting healing and recovery. Many athletes find the subtle compression our Full Knee Helix offers to bring superior comfort and stability to their knees while decreasing the symptoms of ITBS.
Wear proper shoes. Shoes worn out or not fitting well can contribute to IT band syndrome. Make sure to replace your shoes every 300-500 miles and buy shoes specific to your sport.
Avoid overtraining. Too much mileage or too much intensity can lead to IT band syndrome. Gradually increase your mileage and give yourself adequate rest days.
See a physical therapist. A PT can help you identify any muscle imbalances contributing to IT band syndrome and develop a treatment plan to address those issues. Physical therapists across the US have recommended our Knee Compression sleeves to thousands of athletes.
Body Helix LLC, BodyHelix.com or any affiliated brand of Body Helix does not seek to provide medical advice. If you think you may have ITBS, it's essential to see a doctor or certified athletic trainer for an accurate diagnosis. Surgery for iliotibial band syndrome is rare but can be a solution.
If you have IT pain, you might have to hop off your bike or stay off the court, field, or track for a while. But, likely, you'll have to take a break from your favorite sports, not give them up forever.
You can recover from iliotibial band syndrome, and Body Helix will help you move through it. We continually research to provide reliable information and actionable tips to optimize your fitness.
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