You may be wondering what illiotibial band syndrome is or why you should even care. Whether you are an avid gym goer, a cyclist, or someone who participates in any activity with repetitive knee motion, you could be at risk. You could even be at risk if you never exercise! Most people with knee or lower back pain often have an improperly functioning illiotibial band.
People who most commonly experience illiotibial band syndrome are runners, hikers, or cyclists. The illiotibial band (IT band for short) is a band of fascia that runs along the exterior of the thigh from the pelvic bone to just below the knee. There is a bursa, which is a sac of water, where the IT band passes the knee. It helps to reduce friction of the IT band on the exterior of the knee, but illiotibial band syndrome occurs when the IT band is swollen from rubbing that part of the knee.
What Causes Illiotibial Band Syndrome?
The most explainable cause of this condition is overuse or repetitive knee motion. The longer and more frequently you run or cycle, the more likely you are to experience this condition, provided you don’t do anything to prevent it. The excessive friction of the IT band on the outside of the knee creates irritation, ultimately thickening and inflaming the IT band. Other causes can include:
- Not warming up before exercising
- Being bow-legged
- Poor form during exercise (improperly using muscles)
- Lacking flexibility (or having a tight IT band)
- Having arthritis in the knee
Natural Prevention Methods
As a general disclaimer, every person should start foam rolling! If you do have illiotibial band syndrome, however, foam rolling the IT band can do more harm than good because you can increase the pre-existing inflammation. Focus on foam rolling the muscles that are attached to the IT band, especially the gluteus maximus and the tensor fasciae latae (the muscle that runs along the exterior of the hip).
Ice & Heat Therapy
Icing the IT band can help to decrease inflammation, especially after exercising. Before you exercise, however, it is ideal to use a heating pad or hot water bottle to warm up and loosen tension the area.
Rolfing is popular for athletes because it helps them focus on limiting certain motions and improving their form to decrease future pain. It also helps athletes to lengthen constricted muscle fibers, which helps to relax tension and improve the range of motion. Rolfing essentially aids the body’s ability to conserve energy and, in the case of illiotibial band syndrome, prevents the IT bands from being overworked.
Check Your Footwear
While this doesn’t seem like a remedy, examining the wear of the soles of your shoes can help you identify if you are putting too much stress on the IT band. If they are worn along the outside, then you need to replace them. You may want to assess how you walk or run because that can help you figure out which muscles you are favoring, as opposed to which ones you should be engaging. You can also try jogging barefoot on softer surfaces like beaches or grass. Illiotibial band syndrome was rare before the plethora of modern running shoes.
The last thing any athlete wants to do is take time off from exercising, but resting is one of the best things you can do for illiotibial band syndrome. Repeating the activity that caused the initial irritation can only worsen the condition. Take a few days off if you feel pain on the outside of your knee. If you don’t give yourself sufficient recovery time, IT band pain can become chronic.
To help accelerate the recovery process, it is ideal to stretch after exercising because it works to reduce muscle tension. This allows more blood to circulate to the muscles worked. Improving circulation to those muscles helps eliminate the lactic acid produced during exercise, helping your muscles grow back stronger.