What is IT Band Syndrome and How Do We Prevent It?

The IT band or iliotibial band is a thick band of tissue that stretches from our pelvis to our lower knee. Its purpose is to stabilize movements of the knee. If this band becomes too tight or too short, it rubs the leg and causes the knee joint to move out of alignment.

When you have this condition, you will experience pain on the outside of the knee while running. It will start out as a small twinge, but becomes more painful if the problem is not corrected. The pain is usually sporadic—appearing on some runs and not on others.

It is often not felt when you start running but begins to ache after a period of time or distance.  Also, the pain may feel worse when running down hills, but it usually subsides when you stop running.

If you are experiencing pain below or behind the knee cap, you may have runners knee

What causes IT Band Syndrome?

There are a number of causes for iliotibial band syndrome, but the most common is overuse and fatigue.  When this thick band of tissue is overused, it becomes too tight and becomes squeezed against the bone, resulting in pain and the inability to stabilize the entire leg. This is when the stress on the knee joint causes it to go out of alignment causing even more pain and discomfort.

IT band Syndrome

Other possible causes:

  • Weak hip abductors
  • Rapid increase in mileage
  • An inefficient Running posture
  • Not wearing the best running shoes for your feet
  • Running in worn-out shoes
  • Running on circular tracks
  • Running on uneven surfaces
  • Foot pronation
  • Downhill running

What to do when you have IT pain

As soon as you feel the first twinge of pain, take action—don't wait until you have a full-blown injury. Stop or reduce running, avoid hills, and get stretching! 

The IT band doesn't stretch very well as it is not a stretchy tissue. However, stretching the muscles that attach to it, such as the glutes and the tensor fasciae latae (TFL), which is located just in front of the femur, has proven to be very effective. See the video below on how to stretch this area using a foam roller.

An IT Band Compression Strap may help reduce pain and stabilize the leg. 

A deep tissue massage usually helps relieve the tightness and a temporary decrease in the amount of training miles will also speed recovery. Avoid hill training and running on uneven surfaces and circular tracks. Learn How to Use a Foam Roller and give yourself a deep tissue massage.

Active Isolated Stretching may also help speed recovery. 

My experience with IT Band Syndrome

When I trained for my first half marathon, I developed a problem with my iliotibial band. It occurred in the middle of a long run and it was very painful. Fortunately, I took the advice of a fellow runner and stopped running.

It was only a few weeks before the race and I didn't want to risk developing an injury and not being able to enjoy the race. I learned how to stretch the area and did so quite often, and I had a few massage therapy sessions. I believe taking action immediately helped prevent a painful and stubborn injury from developing. I was able to enjoy and complete my first half marathon without any further pain.

It is always wise to listen to our bodies. When they hurt, they are hurting for a reason. We need to listen and take action.

How to stretch the IT Band

Stretching your iliotibial band is a good habit to develop, even if you don't currently feel pain.

Check out this video on how to get a great stretch for this area using a form roller.

What can we learn from this painful experience?

I believe in every experience that we have in life exists an opportunity for learning and growth, especially the most painful ones. If we can uncover what the lesson contains and learn from it, we will not need to repeat the lesson (painful experience). The best way I know to gain this understanding is to sit quietly and clear our minds. Relax and silently ask, "What can I learn from this [experience, pain, injury]?" Then, continue to relax quietly and an answer may come to you in the form of an idea, a connection, a solution, or a concept that you had not thought about previously. 

If you don't receive an understanding right away, don't concern yourself about it. Just stay open to receiving the answer at another time or in another form. Trust that it will come to you and it will. Namaste! 

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