The iliotibial (IT) band can be a common source of pain for runners, sidelining their exercise routine for many days.
“As a runner, you are most likely going to have to address it at some point either because your muscles are tight or you are over-straining it,” said David Smith, a Marshfield Clinic physical therapist.
The IT band is a type of connective tissue called fascia. It holds everything together on your outer thigh from your pelvis to your knee and is connected to several muscles. For comparison, it’s the same type of tissue as gristle in a steak. Similar to when you bite through gristle, the IT band is taught tissue that doesn’t stretch. This is why you can’t actually “stretch” your IT band.
“You are actually stretching the muscles attached to the IT band, not the actual IT band itself,” Smith said.
Tightness in your IT band
Issues with the IT band are mainly because of weakness and tightness in the muscles that it surrounds and is attached to.
“If your muscles are weak, they don’t support your hip, knee, ankle and foot when you land. Your knee goes in too far during your landing and that puts strain on everything including the IT band,” Smith said.
If you are flat-footed or your knee goes down and in too far, that upsets the IT band.
Smith and Nicki Quarne, also a physical therapist at Marshfield Clinic, recommend some hip stretches and foam rolling techniques to help with inflammation and tightness of the IT band. Focused taping techniques on your outer thigh also can assist.
It is important to include flexibility exercises that stretch the involved hip muscles,” Quarne said. “Strengthening the gluteal muscles is also essential when addressing IT band syndrome.”
Foam rolling helps increase blood flow to the tight tissues and works well when performed prior to stretching, she added.
IT band syndrome
If you are experiencing outer knee pain, this is commonly referred to as IT band syndrome. The IT band is constantly moving over the bones near your knee, so that can create friction and pain in the knee. Using ice and strategic foam rolling or massage on the knee can help relieve this pain.
If you have pain from your IT band, swimming or biking can be other forms of exercise you can use that will not cause additional strain on your IT band. Using an elliptical also may be an option because you are simulating running without the impact. This can be a cause of pain for runners in the IT band.
Alternating between these different forms of exercises also may help avoid IT band syndrome issues in the future.