What is Iliotibial Band Syndrome?
Iliotibial band syndrome, usually referred to as IT band syndrome, is a common cause of knee pain that occurs along the outside of the knee and the lower thigh. The IT band is a thick cord of fibrous tissue that starts at the hip, runs along the outside of the leg, and attaches on the outside edge of the shin bone just below the knee joint. Its job is to provide stability to the outside of the knee joint during movement.
IT band syndrome most often occurs when the band becomes inflamed due to overuse or overtraining, increasing training too quickly, returning to training too soon after an injury, or because of a physical problem, such as excessive pronation of the foot, bowed legs, or a leg length discrepancy. Runners often experience IT band syndrome if they run only on one side of a crowned road. This causes the outside foot to be lower than the inside foot, which in turn causes the pelvis to tilt to one side and overstress the IT band.
Symptoms of IT Band Syndrome
Where the IT band crosses bone and muscle, there is a bursa, a sac that facilitates a smooth gliding motion. When the IT band becomes inflamed, however, it does not glide easily, and the result is pain. The pain usually worsens with continued movement and feels better when the knee joint is rested.
Treatment of IT Band Syndrome
In most cases, IT band syndrome can be treated successfully with the RICE approach: Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. A physical therapist can use ultrasound to help heal the injured tissues, and also teach injured patients the correct flexibility exercises and how to correct training errors to help prevent future IT band injuries. A technique called foam roller myofacial release can provide excellent results for many athletes, as can Active Release Technique (ART; see video). You can also use anti-inflammatory medications to reduce the pain and inflammation associated with IT band syndrome.