Iliotibial (IT) Band Syndrome

Iliotibial (IT) band syndrome is a condition that affects the area from the outer thigh to the knee. This is typically caused by some sort of external injury imposed by rigorous exercises such as running or hard aerobics. The iliotibial band that runs across the hip and knee joints serves as a stabilizer for flexing and extending during ordinary use, so when injury occurs, it can be immobilizing.

What Are the Causes?

Like any other ordinary muscle, the iliotibial band can be subjected to injury or irritation when used excessively. Sometimes a good stretch can help alleviate the possibility that any inflammation might occur, but there’s no absolute guarantee of prevention.

There are several potential IT band syndrome causes, but Mobility Bone & Joint Institute can help you.

Intense physical exertion is the single primary cause of IT band syndrome. Running, cycling, and intense aerobics all contribute to the cause of this problem. Since the pain typically happens at the top outer part of the knee, it reaches the part known as the iliotibial band. It is also the region where inflammation occurs due to high-impact injury.

Any other physical exercise such as excessive squatting, bicycling, or anything intense leads to IT band syndrome. Failure to stretch properly before intense physical activity and the improper flexing of the upper leg muscles create high risks for this type of injury. Proper training techniques should be addressed by physical therapists and doctors to avoid the impact of IT band syndrome.

What Are Some IT Band Syndrome Symptoms?

There are several symptoms of iliotibial band syndrome that you should be aware of. If you start to notice a sudden sharp pain that occurs right at the outside of the knee, then getting it checked is a must. This pain can have the same sensation such as a sharp jab and can be quick and painful.

Another sign is a snapping feeling near the knee. This is the IT band itself, which is worn and in need of medical attention. This is especially true if you feel this during simple bending or stretching.

Intense swelling on or around the kneecap can happen as a symptom of IT band syndrome. The swelling can worsen and cause irritation during intense physical activity. You may also notice moderate to severe pain or stiffness around the hip region. Although these things may happen on occasion, they should not be happening every time you exercise. If they do, getting them checked is best.

Why Is Treatment Important?

If the inflammation is not taken care of, then injury continues to the point of becoming incapacitated. Your knee will worsen from lack of use during exercise and the pain will only increase. Your IT band syndrome recovery time could take a lot longer as a result.

How Can You Get a Diagnosis of IT Band Syndrome?

The best way to get a proper diagnosis of IT band syndrome is to make an appointment right away. The sooner you begin treatment, the shorter your recovery time will be. Catching it early on is key to getting back in the game.

You should begin by telling what happened. This starts when you give a thorough and accurate description of the problem you want to be treated. You should describe, in detail, the progression of lateral knee pain and answer questions about what typically triggers it.

If the pain trigger happens to be the heel of your foot striking the ground, then you most likely have IT band syndrome. This should be backed up by a physical where the doctor can check for muscle weakness or swelling and assess your treatment options. Any muscle tenderness or joint swelling should be examined before treatment to gauge success and the length of your recovery time.

The physical exam consists of a closer look at your lower back, hips, and legs to determine any external causes of your pain. Your knees and ankle joints will be checked for any other conditions such as arthritis. If nothing further is found, then it’s more than likely that you will have a diagnosis of IT band syndrome.

There are other diagnostic tests your doctor can perform to locate the problem. They can do a movement test where your general range of motion is tested. At this point, the doctor will test your balance and analyze your general ability to walk and run.

You may need to have your lower body analyzed, along with your foot structure, as both support your natural weight during activity. Anything that happens in those areas can have an impact on your iliotibial band as well as your hip area.

What Are the Treatment Options?

Thankfully, there are many remedies your physician can prescribe which can be done in the privacy of your own home. Such options include heat treatments and ice packs. The most common treatment is RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation). All of these choices reduce inflammation in those areas and will decrease your recovery time if done properly.

Your physician may even recommend some light stretching on or around the area. Any stretching exercises should be done in a way that any muscles, tissue, or joints do not get ruptured or pulled in the process. At some point, medication may be temporarily prescribed until the pain is gone and your iliotibial band and knee are no longer injured.

Most of these treatments can be done at home and are safe and effective. But there are instances where they may be ineffective, and that’s where you might need another approach.

Can Physical Therapy Help?

Physical therapy is a time-honored intervention in any sports-related injury. With iliotibial band syndrome, physical therapy is designed to use these four common strategies:

  • Range of motion
  • Muscle strength
  • Manual therapy
  • Functional training

Range of Motion
Range of motion is studied by comparing the movement of the leg that has the injury to the one that doesn’t. From there, your therapist can determine what other treatment may be necessary and make a recommendation.

Muscle Strength
Muscle strength is critical to your recovery from any injury, including iliotibial band syndrome. During physical therapy, you will work with the therapist to target weak muscles and develop them. Doing so will improve your odds of joint functionality and get you back in the game. Plus, it will help you speed up your recovery time.

Manual Therapy
This stage of therapy is hands-on. Here your therapist will help you target your most challenging areas that are more difficult to develop on your own. They can move your leg up and down or back and forth while massaging any injuries or inflamed muscles. This can lessen any chance of further injury and can improve your chances of a timely recovery.

Functional Training
Functional training is provided to rebuild your ability to perform the exercises you did before your injury. At this point, you will be working with your therapist by practicing a series of controlled exercises where you’ll practice coordination and balance while building your muscles. You will develop a program and a follow-up treatment plan which will bring you back to your previous level and challenge your stamina. Once you complete your therapy, your therapist will make specific aftercare suggestions designed to help you prevent the possibility of future injuries.

What You Can Do To Prevent Future Injuries

There are ways to help yourself prevent further injuries to your iliotibial band. You can easily do this by developing and maintaining your core strength and by keeping a close eye on every aspect of your exercise routine. You should consider making a few changes to your routine. One idea is to do a few warm-ups, such as light calisthenics and stretching before your workout. Stretching allows the muscles to warm up through flexing and can keep them relaxed throughout the intense exercise.

If your therapist gives you any rehabilitation exercises to do at home, it is highly suggested that they be completed as part of your daily routine. This will help you to practice and build your new skill set. A slow approach is best while rebuilding any lost muscle tissue, and patience with yourself is required.

If you notice any pain that returns, you should immediately stop your routine right away. The constant movement may only irritate the problem further, and intervention may be the better strategy. Another appointment could be necessary.

Iliotibial band syndrome is a painful condition that’s easy to treat. Skilled intervention, experience, and top knowledge are the most important aspects of quality treatment.

Do you have questions about the diagnosis and treatment of IT Band Syndrome at Mobility Bone & Joint Institute?

Call (978) 794-1946 or click here to schedule an appointment at our Andover, MA office.

Call (603) 898-2244 or click here to schedule an appointment at our Salem, NH office.

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