The IT (iliotibial) band is a thick ligament that runs along the outside of the thigh, connecting the top of the hip to the outside of the knee. When this tendon becomes irritated and inflamed, the resulting condition is called IT band syndrome. IT band syndrome is characterized by a sharp, stabbing pain in the side of the knee that is exacerbated by downhill running. The pain can radiate up and down the leg and, in severe cases, may even flare up while walking down a hill or down stairs. Runners might also experience some swelling in the knee joint.
IT band syndrome is an overuse injury and is generally triggered by any activity that causes the leg to turn inward repeatedly. Wearing old shoes, running downhill, running on banked surfaces, always running on a circular track in the same direction, or simply running too many miles can all cause IT band syndrome. Women suffer from IT band syndrome more often than men because the angle of their hips causes the knees to turn in more markedly, adding extra stress to the IT band. Runners with a leg length discrepancy or weak hip abductor and gluteal muscles are also more likely to develop the condition.
Treatment and Prevention
Like most running injuries, IT band syndrome can be treated and prevented with some simple solutions, including:
- Rest. Try taking a few days off and decreasing mileage at the first signs of injury to prevent a full-blown flare. If you don't take a break, IT band syndrome can become a chronic condition that plagues your career. While you rest, try a low-impact activity such as swimming to maintain your fitness level.
- Use ice and anti-inflammatory medications to treat any pain and swelling.
- Stretching and using a foam roller on your outer thigh can provide pain relief and help break up any scar tissue that has formed.
- When you are pain-free, work on strengthening the hip muscles and glutes. These muscles support the knee and help ensure a strong, balanced stride.
- Check your shoes for wear, particularly on the outer sole. If your shoes are worn-out, replace them with a supportive pair.
- When you resume running, avoid aggressive downhill running, change directions on the track regularly, and try to run on flat surfaces.
Of course, if your pain persists despite several weeks of rest, ice, and anti-inflammatory medications, consult with your doctor. Cortisone injections and surgical interventions might be necessary in severe cases.
We've got one more post about running injuries in the works, so check back soon! We'll be covering stress fractures. In the meantime, if you have questions about how to run injury-free, contact us today!