Jacob Erickson, D.O.
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The iliotibial, or IT, band is a long fibrous band of fascia tissue that runs from the outside of your hip down to the outside of your knee. It has a complex job description: it helps lift your leg to the front and to the side of your body, and it supports your knee during flexion and extension. So when this hardworking tissue is injured or overworked, it can be a real pain in the leg.
Repetitive motion, like running, rowing or cycling, typically is the culprit in IT band issues. The IT band also is irritated when exercising on uneven surfaces, like trails or hiking downhill. The first warning sign of injury usually is pain on the outside of your knee, at the hip or down the side of your leg. You may notice the pain right after an exercise class or run. IT band problems can be experienced by active adults, children, and student and adult competitive athletes.
Take it easy
The key is to keep a small problem small. Don't ignore the pain and try to push through it. Instead, take a rest from the activity you were doing for a few days. If the pain persists, see a sports medicine specialist or athletic trainer, who often will prescribe physical therapy.
Do physical therapy
The physical therapist will develop a series of exercises for you that will treat your whole leg, including targeting and strengthening your core and larger gluteal muscles to relieve some of the IT band's workload. The therapist also may do some soft-tissue work or dry needling.
Other treatments may include steroid injections or, in rare cases, surgery.
People whose leg and core muscles are weaker may be predisposed to IT band injuries.
Weakness can be diagnosed with a simple test:
- Do a single-leg squat.
- If your knee tips in as you bend down, rather than pointing forward, be proactive and consider leg-strengthening exercises.
Students involved with youth sports typically are screened, and any concerns are identified before they begin the activity. Not catching issues before the activity may result in injury midseason with athletes having to take time away from their sport while they go through rehabilitation.
In general, the best way to avoid having your IT band become a pain the leg, is to maintain your core, leg and gluteal muscle strength.