If you’re an athlete or a person who lives a healthy, active lifestyle, you probably know about your IT Band and where it’s located. However, not everyone is familiar with all the important work this long piece of connective tissue handles.
The Iliotibial Band (IT Band) runs along the outside of the leg, starting from the hip all the way down to the knee and shinbone.
IT Band Syndrome can cause significant pain around the outside of the knee, limit a person’s range of motion and even develop into a chronic condition.
What is Iliotibial Band Syndrome (IT Band Syndrome)?
The IT band is essential in nearly every form of movement, from walking and running to sitting and even laying down. It helps us extend our leg and pull it back, as well rotating our hips, stabilizing the knees and protecting our outer thighs.
IT Band Syndrome (ITBS) can occur when this lengthy piece of soft-tissue gets inflamed, tight, bunched up or irritated. An inflamed IT band creates compression that generally leads to pain on the outside of the knee when bending, but in some cases might also cause pain in the hip.
This condition can happen to anyone, although it is particularly common in athletes or occupations that require a high degree of repetitive movements that engage the IT band.
Iliotibial band syndrome symptoms can range from mild to severe. So it’s important not to ignore the early signs or symptoms of this condition.
Iliotibial Band Syndrome Symptoms
The indicators of Iliotibial Band Syndrome symptoms are likely to start out as minor aches and pains that dissipate as the muscles and surrounding soft tissues warm up with movement or exercise.
At first, there may be a tingling or prickling sensation, but if left untreated, it can seriously diminish a person’s ability to get around.
Some of the more common symptoms of IT band syndrome can include:
- Pain on the lateral or outside area of the knee
- Cracking or popping sounds coming with knee movement
- Swelling or tenderness in the knee
- Pain or tension along the entire length of the IT band, from the knee to the hip
- Serious pain each time the heel strikes the ground when walking, running, or traveling up or down stairs
IT band syndrome treatment can be effective, but it’s also important to understand what causes this issue.
IT Band Syndrome Causes
An inflamed and irritated IT band causes compression and pain. It is usually the result of overuse or overtraining in athletes, but can also occur in people whose occupations place recurring stress on this area of the body.
For other people, IT band syndrome may develop from anatomy incongruities such as cartilage thickness due to degeneration, among others.
For athletes, the causes of IT band syndrome can often be the result poor or training habits, such as incorrect form while running, lifting, squatting or cycling. It may also be the result of a lack of rest days and failing to warm-up, cool down, or stretch before and after workouts.
Improper footwear and training on hard surfaces can also take a toll on the IT band.
Much of the same applies to those who have physically demanding jobs that require repetitive IT band movements.
Anatomy can be a factor when a person has one leg that’s longer than the other, bowed legs, or a pelvic tilt.
Additional and related causes of IT band syndrome may include some of the following:
- Prior injury to the IT band or surrounding muscles, or tendons and ligaments
- Weak muscles in the hips, gluteal, and abdominal muscles
- Weakness in the knee flexors and extensors
- Arthritis in the knee
- Flat feet
- Lack of flexibility
- Repetitive movements, like running or biking
- Excessive uphill walks, climbs, or runs
- Prolonged sitting for long periods of time without breaks
Whatever the cause, there are IT band syndrome exercises and treatments that can help alleviate the pain and inflammation that result from the condition.
IT Band Treatment
A doctor or sports physician will usually diagnose the condition after a physical examination and a discussion of symptoms. There will likely be some imaging procedures too, such as x-rays, an MRI, or ultrasound in order to rule out any other physical issues.
There are a range of different treatment options available, depending on the severity of a person’s pain and how long they’ve been dealing with the condition.
IT Band Syndrome treatments can include:
1. RICE Method
Rest, ice, compression and elevation, known as the RICE Method, can be effective for reducing pain and inflammation, especially in the early stages of the condition.
2. Anti-Inflammatory Medications
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories, over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve) are also useful for reducing pain and inflammation.
3. Physical Therapy and Exercises
Physical therapy is often recommended as a way to develop proper form for particular movements, as well as learning various IT band stretches and exercises while receiving massage treatment for reducing the pain and inflammation caused by the condition.
4. EPAT Therapy For IT Band Syndrome
EPAT Therapy for IT Band Syndrome (Extracorporeal Pulse Activation Technology) is a non-invasive method for increasing the speed of healing and limiting downtime related to the condition.
EPAT works by delivering impulse pressure waves deep into the IT band to stimulate the healing process and reducing painful symptoms.
Sometimes referred to as Extracorporeal Shock Wave Therapy (ESWT), this form of treatment increases blood flow and decreases inflammation. It can also be administered while a person is still active because it’s nonsurgical, so there is no anesthesia recovery time required, and no risk of infection.
5. Steroid Injections
Corticosteroid shots might also be suggested in combination with some of the above treatments, if the more conservative approaches are not working on their own.
Steroids can be effective for reducing inflammation and pain, though the length of their effectiveness will vary from person to person. There is also a limit to the number of injections a person can receive because steroids are likely to damage healthy, surrounding tissue.
Surgery is a last resort and reserved for severe, chronic cases of IT band Syndrome. There are various techniques surgeons will use to alleviate chronic inflammation, depending on a person’s particular needs.
Regardless, surgery will require significant downtime and recovery time before resuming normal activities. It’s also important to discuss any associated risk factors with your physician ahead of time.
These treatment methods for Iliotibial Band Syndrome should provide an effective means for reducing pain and healing the IT band for many people.