Knee pain: IT band syndrome and how to deal with it

It was mile 16 of my first 20-mile run when everything came to a screeching halt. The knee pain had been there for a while; I just chose to ignore it. Icing and anti-inflammatories had become my nightly ritual before I went to bed, as did hobbling down the stairs in the morning.

During the period I was waiting to get an appointment to see my doctor, I treated my knee like a structural injury and began rehabbing it accordingly. When manual testing, X-rays and MRIs at the doctor's revealed nothing wrong with my knee, I was at a loss as to what this excruciating pain could be.

Before I decided to pack up and retire my running gear forever, I reached out to my chiropractor who practices active release technique (ART), and he suggested that we should take a closer look at my iliotibial band (IT band) to see if that stabbing pain might have something to do with this thick band of fascia. Because of the location of the pain, many people mistake this fascia injury as a problem with the knee.

IT band injury symptoms mainly consist of pain around the knee, especially during activities like running, cycling or jumping. IT band pain is classically felt on the outer side of the knee, but can vary in its exact location. Most people with this injury have pain slightly above the knee, where the IT band rubs on the lower end of thigh bone (femur). The IT band is a band of fibrous tissue that runs down the outside of the thigh. It provides stability to the knee and hip and helps prevent dislocation of those joints. The band may overdevelop, tighten, and rub across the hip bone or the outer part of the knee. Each time the knee is bent or the hip flexed, the band rubs against bone

How to treat IT band syndrome

  1. Rest, anti-inflammatory medications, and ice the affected area daily
  2. Stretches and use of a foam roller on the IT Band and other affected areas (glutes, quads, calves)
  3. ART, massage and physical therapy.

Tips to prevent IT band syndrome

  1. Decrease activity as soon as you feel pain on the outside of your knee
  2. Warm up gradually before running
  3. Get fitted for proper shoes and replace them as soon as they are worn out. Watch for wear on the outside of your shoe.
  4. Try to run on a flat surface. If you are running on a track, make sure you change directions repeatedly
  5. Foam roll and stretch daily. A 6 inch x 36 inch foam roller is the best tool for stretching the IT band. Lie on your side with the roller under your leg and roll it from your hip to your knee using your body weight to knead the area. The pressure will help loosen the tendon and the fascia, almost like a self-massage
  6. Strengthen the supporting muscles. Helpful exercises include: leg lifts, clam shells, and lateral band walks. Focus on strengthening the hips, gluteus muscles and your core, for maximum function.
Sara Lindburg has a B.S. in Exercise Science and an M.Ed. in Counselling. A 41-year-old wife, mother, and full-time secondary school counsellor, she combines 20-plus years' experience in the fitness and counselling fields and she has found her passion in inspiring other women to be the best version of themselves on her Facebook page, FitMom. Her inspiration for writing comes from her 6-year-old son, Cooper, and 8-year-old daughter, Hanna. Follow Sara on twitter.


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