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Runners, Do You Know About Iliotibial (IT) Band Syndrome?

Author: Rosemary Buckle, M.D.

The iliotibial (IT) band is a large band of tissue that runs from the outer hip to the outer knee. In runners (particularly distance runners) the IT band can become tight and inflamed, rubbing against the femur (thigh bone). A tight IT band can make it difficult to move the knee properly; pain associated with IT band syndrome can keep you away from running for several weeks or more if not properly cared for.

What are the symptoms of IT band syndrome?

Symptoms of IT band syndrome may include swelling and/or pain on the lateral (outside) part of the knee.

Note: it’s common for runners with IT band syndrome to think they have sustained a knee injury. A good way to check this – aside from seeing an orthopedic provider – is to bend the knee at a 45º angle. If you have pain on the outside of the knee, you may have IT band syndrome.

IT band syndrome usually can’t be observed on an x-ray. An MRI, however, could confirm an orthopedic doctor’s diagnosis.

What causes IT band syndrome?

While commonly occurring in runners, IT band syndrome may develop in anyone who is engaged in an activity that results in the leg turning inward repeatedly. Experienced runners may think their studied and practiced form exempts them from this condition. However, IT band syndrome has been known to affect beginners and professionals equally.

Some people may be more predisposed to developing IT band syndrome. If, for example, you have legs of different length, bowed legs, or a tilt in the pelvis, you could be at greater risk for developing this condition. Additionally, running in one direction on a circular track or running on the sloped part of the road could increase risk for developing IT band syndrome.

How do I treat IT band syndrome?

If you notice symptoms that could be caused by IT band syndrome, stop running immediately. Your body needs rest for the pain and inflammation to subside. Continuing to run with IT band syndrome could lead to a chronic condition. As you take time away from running (or reduce your distance), consider cross training by cycling or swimming.

Steroid injections may be helpful for some runners who have scar tissue. However, traditional rest and behavior modification should be sufficient for many people with IT band syndrome. In rare cases, release surgery is necessary.

Find an Orthopedic Doctor Near You In Houston

To learn more about your options in treating IT band syndrome, find an orthopedic physician near you. Call Houston Institute for Sports Medicine & Orthopedics at (713) 756-5546, or schedule your next appointment online.

Please consult with your physician before undertaking any form of medical treatment or adopting any exercise program or dietary guidelines.