As one of the most common overuse injuries experienced by runners, you’ve probably heard of iliotibial (IT) band syndrome before but you may not know exactly what it is or how to treat it effectively.

You might have hip pain or thigh pain but the most common symptom of  IT band syndrome is pain on the outside of the knee. A quick look at the anatomy and location of the IT band explains why:

IT Band anatomy

Your IT band runs down the side of your thigh from your hip to the outside of your knee, helping to stabilise your pelvis and knee joints when you move. If the IT band becomes tight then it can rub on the thigh bone where it wraps around the side of your knee. This friction causes inflammation and leg pain.

Early treatment for IT band friction syndrome

  1. Don’t ignore the early warning signs of aching, this condition can become quite severe. The first line of treatment is to cut back on all activities that make your symptoms worse to a point where they are comfortable. For some activites, this may mean temporarily stopping altogether. This doesn’t mean doing nothing at all though … you can cross train in the short term to keep up your fitness levels. Swimming is ideal.
  1. Try gently massaging the painful spot with an ice cube in small circle for about 3 -5 mins to relief pain. Stop when the area goes numb to avoid an ice burn.
  1. Use a foam rollerto massage and encourage better movement of the IT band:

IT Band exercise on foam roller

Don’t bother trying to stretch your IT band, it’s not designed to lengthen like a muscle does. Stretch out around your hips instead for better results.

Exercises to help the IT band recover and to prevent recurrence

If your buttock muscles (glutes) are weak, smaller muscles around your hips have to work harder than they should. One of these small muscles – Tensor Fascia Lata (TFL) – attaches directly to the IT band, so if it is overworking this causes tension to build up in the band itself.

So to treat the underlying cause of IT band friction syndrome you have to strengthen your glutes while trying to keep the work for TFL to a minimum. Here are a few of our favorite exercises to achieve this.

Side-lying leg lifts

Side lying leg lifts are the most effective way of targeting your outer glutes, without firing up your TFL. It’s ideal for early stage rehab when your knee is still sore and it looks easy but lots of people don’t do this exercise correctly. Getting your leg in exactly the right position is the key:

Glutes strengthening exercise in side lying for IT Band syndrome

  • Lie on your good side.
  • Straighten out your top leg and press back slightly, so it’s in line with your body.
  • Imagine you are lying with your back against a wall and that you are sliding your leg up the wall as you lift it. Hold for 5 seconds and lower again.
  • Repeat until fatigue

Single leg bridge

Single leg bridge is another great way of strength and conditioning exercise for runners:

Gluten strengthening to prevent IT Band syndrome

  • Lie on your back with your knees bent and lift up your pelvis
  • Keep your pelvis level and straighten one leg. Hold for 5 seconds and repeat on the other side
  • Lower and repeat 8 times

Standing side-steps with elastic exercise band

As soon as you are able, without causing any pain, it’s important to move on the strengthening your glutes while you are on your feet. Try side stepping into a resistance band:

Glutes and quads strengthening for IT Band pain

  • Tie an elastic exercise band round your thighs just above your knees
  • Sink down into a mini squat position and slowly side step

When you’re pain free during all normal daily activities again, you can start to build up your running again. You’ll need to  start at a comfortable level and increase things gradually. Interval training can be helpful initially.

As always, get in touch if you have any questions at all!

The Physiofit Team