If you are a runner, cyclist, hiker or if you walk long distances, you probably experienced a throbbing pain on the outside of your knee. This is where your IT Band is positioned, and it is composed of a bunch of fiber muscles that run from the top of your hips to the side of your knees. If these fibers get too tight, you can experience pain and discomfort. Movements that bend the knee repetitively like running or cycling are known to cause problems on the IT Band. There are a lot of misconceptions when it comes to this syndrome, so we elaborated this complete guide with all the information you need to have about your IT Band.
The Anatomy of the IT Band
What exactly is the IT Band and what are the component parts of it? It is important to understand our bodies to be able to take care of them well. Since the band is not just one muscle or one ligament, but an agglomeration of them, it can be tricky to care for it. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the individual parts that compose the IT Band and how to best treat each of them.
The Ilium is a big, flat part of the hip bone. It is one of the biggest parts of the hip and it supplies many attachments and beginning points for muscles of the thigh, hip, and trunk.
Tensor Fasciae Latae
This is a very small muscle, but that does not mean it’s unimportant. It originates on the Ilium and it lies in front of the hip, playing the role of one of the connection points in the band, flexing the hip. When we are standing up straight, this muscle works to stabilize our posture and give us balance.
The Iliotibial Band per se is a thick fascia tissue running through the outside of our thighs. It serves as a bridge between the gluteus maximus and the knee, hip, and shin. Think of it as an envelope for the quadriceps, thighs, and hip group. It is made of dense and thick connective tissue and it does not have any bony attachments, which allows it to move freely anteriorly and posteriorly, flexing the knee.
The Tibia is the shinbone. It is the largest and strongest bone below the knee, and it is the second biggest bone in the whole body. It connects the knee with the ankle bones and it is a major source of support for us. Running without stretching can cause pain and discomfort in that bone.
As the name suggests, this is one of the muscles in the gluteal area. It is the largest and most superficial of them, and a big extensor muscle. Without it, we would not be able to do several movements like opening and stretching our legs and running appropriately. It is a big connection point for the Iliotibial Band.
The IT Band is responsible for keeping your hip and your knee connected. It is also known as the iliotibial tract, and its tendon runs all the way from the outer thigh to the shin bone. Without it, it would be impossible to keep stable during any kind of exercise, particularly rapid ones like jumping or running.
What causes IT Band Issues and Other Useful Information
So what causes the issues about IT Band and can we avoid them? This is actually a very common injury and it is a non-traumatic one, caused by overuse of muscles and tissue. Runners and cyclists are more prone to overdoing the use of the knees and muscles around it and should be careful to avoid it. Let’s answer some frequent questions.
Where does it hurt exactly?
It is important to properly recognize this syndrome, and not confuse it with something else. Many people and even professionals incorrectly diagnose hip pains with IT Band syndrome, and that can cause problems with treatment. This syndrome occurs on the outside of the knee, and it specifically hurts like this:
- The outside-facing side of the knee hurts, lateral to the knee
- At or just a little bit above the knee bump bone hurts
- It is a defined pain, it is not hard to pinpoint exactly where it hurts
- It is a superficial pain, it feels on the outside of the joint, not inside of it
Keep that in mind and remember that, while the problem may be around the whole IT Band fascia, it will hurt around the knee.
What are the signs?
Sharp, superficial and continuous pain on the lateral of the knee is the main sign of IT Band syndrome. At first, you may feel a tingling sensation or pricks that are usually ignored. It then gradually progresses to pain that strikes every time the foot touches the ground while walking. If it’s not addressed, it can even keep you from walking or going up the stairs.
Can I get it more than one time?
Yes, if you treat it but continue to overuse this body part in question, without doing any of the preventive exercises, it can happen again.
What do the doctors say about it and how to diagnose it?
The IT Band syndrome is not too easy to diagnose since it relies heavily on the patient’s description of the pain. The doctors also look for tenderness and swelling around the area, and look for tightness and muscle imbalance. It is important to do a full examination of the lower body part, including hips, legs, knees, and ankles.
How long does it last?
Treatments involve a lot of resting and the recovery time changes from person to person. It can take from a few weeks to a couple of months to fully heal. Usually, four to eight weeks are expected.
What can I do to Alleviate the Pain?
There is a known acronym to help us remember how to first treat IT Band syndrome – RICE. That stands for Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation. Anti-inflammatory medications can also help, but keep in mind they should always be prescribed by a doctor since they can have side effects. There are also home treatments you can try before going the medication route.
- Stretching – Since the IT Band syndrome means the tissue is very tight, stretching is the main form to release it. There are some specific positions you can try, for example, stand up straight, cross your feet on an x and do a side stretch, reaching your arm all the way up to your head to one side.
- Foam rollers- A foam roller is a useful tool to alleviate IT Band symptoms. It is a hard rubber cylinder, and you can use it by laying down on it on your side and pressing the thigh muscles on it, rolling up and down.
- Massage- A home massage is also a good option to release the muscles and help with the pain. Slowly massage your thighs and try to do a deep massage all around the leg.
Failing that, it is crucial to consult with a specialist doctor and get advice on what to do next. They will probably advise the use of physical therapy. The professionals will focus on stretching, flexibility exercises and even ultrasound techniques.
Can my shoes be contributing to the syndrome?
Yes, there is evidence that supports that the wrong running shoes can contribute to IT Band syndrome. Wearing worn-out shoes can lead to these kinds of pain, or simply wearing shoes that are not suited for you. Specialists recommend always trying out shoes before buying, getting the right kind of shoes for the right activity, and paying attention to the shock absorber factor of it. The right gear influences a lot on our health, and shopping for the right shoes can make a lot of difference. Consider the terrain you are going to exercise on, if it’s asphalt or gravel, and get the right gear for it.
Is Yoga Good for IT Band Problems?
Doing too much too fast is the main cause of IT Band syndrome. It is easy to think that we need to make up for the lost time when starting to exercise, and we push our bodies too much. If you are a runner or cyclist, know that yoga is an excellent exercise to add to your routine. The guided stretching and flexibility exercises which yoga offers complements the aerobic component of these exercises.
Running is great, but its repetitive movements can be a danger if they are not accompanied by a lot of stretching. Thus, yoga is a fantastic companion to aerobic exercises. It helps in the development of muscular strength, balance and flexibility, and all that is great to prevent injuries. It also aids in improving mental focus and breathing efficiency, which only makes running better. Yoga can be the element that was missing to bring your results to another level.
Here are some amazing yoga exercises you can try at home to alleviate the pain that IT Band syndrome can cause.
This is a very satisfying pose that you can do at any time and any place. It calls for a yoga strap, but if you don’t have it, don’t worry. You can simply use a towel instead. Choose a spot on the floor and lie on your back. You should allow for some space around you, but not too much if you don’t have any. Bring one leg up towards you, and loop the towel around your foot. Keeping your knee straight, no bending, pull your legs towards you as much as you can. You will feel the muscles around your thigh softening.
Anjaneyasana (Low Lunge)
You do not need any props to do this pose, although you can use a blanket if you choose to do so. On the floor, come to your hands and knees, supporting your body in an all-fours position. Place a blanket under your knees if they feel too sensitive. Bring one knee up like you are kneeling and place both hands on top of that knee. Stretch your body forward, shifting your body weight until your hip is above your knee. Stay there for at least five breaths, and do not force it too much. Repeat with the other leg.
On the floor, place yourself on an easy plank position. This is just like a regular plank, but with your knees touching the floor. If your knees are uncomfortable, place a towel or a blanket under them. With an impulse, move your right leg and place your foot on the side of your right hand. Shift your weight so that it is resting on top of your thigh and not on your kneecap. Stretch your body forward and backward to open up your muscles. If that is too easy, you can also place your right hand on the outside of your foot for a deeper stretch. Repeat with left hand and leg.
Cow Face Pose
Sit down on the floor with your spine erect and legs straight in front of you. Bend your right knee and stack it over the left one, then bend the left knee and tuck it under the right one. Both knees should be aligned in a meditation position. Inhale and exhale a few times, then twist your core to the right, always keeping your spine straight. Do the same for the other side. If that is too much, try sitting on a blanket or block.
Revolved Triangle Pose
Stand up with your feet together and pointing forwards. Bring your right leg about two feet in front of you, still with your toes pointing forwards. Carefully, bring your torso down at a 90 degrees angle. Reach your left arm down trying to touch the floor (it’s ok if you can’t) and the other one up pointing to the ceiling. Lastly, turn your head up and look at your right hand. Try to stay there for a few breaths, then bring yourself back up. Repeat everything for the other side of your body.
Thread the Needle
Lay down on the floor and stretch your spine as much as you can. Bring your knees up and keep your legs at a 90 degrees angle. Bring your right foot to the top of your left leg, kind of like you are sitting on air. Draw your left into your chest as much as you can, stretching your IT Band tissue while doing it. Inhale and exhale a few times, then repeat with the other side.
Ankles crossed standing forward fold
Probably the easiest of the positions on our guide, this is also one of the most effective ones. Stand up with your feet together, and stretch both your arms up. Cross your left ankle in front of your right one and keep them both firmly touching the ground. Bring your arms down, together with your torso, trying to keep your spine straight. Try to touch the ground with your fingers, but don’t worry if you can’t.
Whenever we start doing physical activities, we should always consult with a professional beforehand. It is important to respect our bodies and take things slow and steady. It is more beneficial to do some exercise every day, rather than a lot of it at once, at least in the beginning. Interestingly, IT Band syndrome is more common in women, since they tend to have a larger pelvis than men, meaning more rotation on the hip bone while running. Alternate between aerobic exercises and ones that stretch your body. We need different types of stimuli to keep a balanced healthy lifestyle, and giving our bodies a variety of movements is better than always repeating the same ones.