As an athlete or active person, there is a good chance you have at least heard about or even experienced IT band syndrome. It is a common injury that can largely be prevented with the right knowledge and actions.
What is the IT band?
Before we talk about IT band syndrome, let’s talk about what the IT band actually is. The iliotibial band—ilio- means hip, and tibial means tibia or shin bone—is a huge band of tissue running along the outside of your leg between the top of your hip to the top of the tibia, just below the knee. This band helps keep the knee stable during activity. It also assists in hip flexion and rotation.
What is ITBS?
ITBS happens when the lower portion of the IT band becomes irritated and painful. The pain is usually just above the knee joint on the outside of the leg
What causes the lower portion of the IT band to become irritated? Overuse, lots of flexion and extension activity such as running or cycling, or an IT band that is too tight can all contribute to this problem.
The main risk factors for developing ITBS include:
- repetitive training/activity
- bowlegged knees
- hyperpronation (excessive inward motion of the foot/ankle) of feet
- improper running form
- improper bike fit
- running on uneven surfaces such as the leftward slope of the road
Sports Medicine Assessment
ITBS is diagnosed by clinical assessment by your sports medicine doctor. The doctor will take a detailed history and perform a focused physical exam that includes testing of the hips, knees, ankles and feet. Imaging such as X-ray or MRI are not usually needed unless there is concern for something else.
They key to treating ITBS is in correcting the underlying cause. Mild cases of ITBS are often treated with home exercises. Chronic or more serious cases may require working with a skilled physical therapist. Depending on each case there may be recommendations for heat, ice, or medication such as ibuprofen. More difficult cases may require steroid injections. Surgery is rarely needed to treat ITBS.
Prevention is key! If you are an endurance athlete, make sure you are cross training outside of your primary sport. For example, runners need to include bike or swim workouts as well as strength training. Make sure you are using proper form in your activity. Make sure your bike is adjusted to fit you. Stretching and/or rolling after your workout is a good idea, too.
Depending on the severity of the injury, most athletes can be back to their full activities within a couple weeks to a couple months. There are usually no long-term side effects of ITBS when treated appropriately.
If you find yourself with symptoms resembling IT band syndrome or any other activity-related injury, come talk to the experts with Holland Hospital Sports Medicine so that we can help you recover and stay active. For an evaluation, call my office at (616) 772-7314 or you can schedule online.