You’re jogging down the road on one of your long runs when all of a sudden you feel a sharp burning sensation that starts at your knee and radiates up your thigh and to your hip. You’re biking at the gym and feel a snap or pop followed by possible swelling around your knee post-workout. An IT band injury also known as iliotibial band syndrome (ITBS), has plagued many runners and bikers due to the repetitive action of the knee during workouts. Becoming more knowledgeable about ITBS can help you recognize common signs and symptoms as well as learn tips on how to either prevent or treat this common injury.
The IT band injury is an overuse injury that many runners and bikers face due to the way your IT band works in your leg. The iliotibial band is a thick band of fascia which connects the outside of your knee to the outside of the hip. While running or biking, as your leg moves forward and your knee straightens, the IT band moves from behind the base of your femur to the front. As your leg bends back in at a 45° angle, the IT band moves back behind the femur. Iliotibial band syndrome is the inflammation caused by your IT band constantly transitioning from behind your femur to the front. On top of this, as you straighten your leg out, the ligament stretches and narrows as it rubs up against the bone. This thinned ligament is more prone to irritation and causes the pain you feel on the outside of the knee or swelling you might find.
There are a few ways that you can help to prevent an IT band injury. Avoid running on a road that is canted or banked which can cause issues, as this will cause a tilt in your hips and can make you more likely to develop ligament issues in your leg. Running the same way on a track can also cause wear on your IT band as the same knee is constantly being used to turn. Running downhill in general is something that can cause a lot of stress on your IT band as one of its main purposes is to stabilize the knee as you run. When it comes to prevention, listening to your body and watching for signs of inflammation in your knee are great ways to catch an injury early.
If you do have an IT band injury, the best way to treat it is to simply rest. This can be one of the hardest things for runners to do. However, without proper rest to strengthen your ligament and reduce swelling, the inflammation will only get worse. Exercises that stretch out your IT band can be found online, which will help reduce pain and soreness. Initial treatment such as ice, compression and elevation can also help with IT band syndrome. The main lessons are to be careful of overusing the same muscle groups, consistently follow proper rest and recovery methods and to always listen to your body.