8 Ways to Prevent IT Band Pain

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The Iliotibial (IT) band is a long, thick fibrous band of connective tissue—or fascia—that runs along the outside of the thigh from the hip to the knee and tibia of the lower leg. The IT band allows your hips to extend, abduct, and rotate; it also stabilizes your knees.

Running, hiking, cycling, weightlifting, or any sport that requires repetitive flexing of the knee can result in Iliotibial (IT) Band Syndrome or ITBS, a painful inflammation of the IT band and the surrounding tissues.

Tips to Prevent Band Syndrome

The most common symptom of IT band syndrome is painful knees, particularly on the outer side of the joint. If you do injure your IT band, it can take a long time to heal. Here's how to avoid being sidelined by your favorite sport:

Always Warm Up Before Exercising

The American Academy of Sports Medicine recommends five to 10 minutes of low-to-moderate activity, such as brisk walking, before engaging in the more strenuous phase of your exercise routine.

Replace Your Running Shoes Regularly

It's important to replace your running shoes regularly, meaning every 300 to 500 miles or every three to four months. Worn out shoes absorb less shock, which may lead to an increased risk of IT band pain. Another strategy is to alternate between two pairs of running shoes. This allows each pair's shock-absorbing cushion to return to its optimal form before you wear them again.

Don't Do Too Much Too Soon

It's natural to want to challenge yourself and increase your stamina over time. But it's important to add mileage and distance gradually. Being too ambitious and doing too much too soon is a very common cause of sports injuries.

To prevent this, many fitness experts recommend that both novice and expert athletes follow the 10 percent rule, which sets a limit on increases in weekly training. This guideline simply states that you should increase your activity no more than 10 percent per week. That includes distance, intensity, amount of weight lifted, and the duration of your exercise session.

For example, if you are running 20 miles per week and want to increase that, add two miles the next week. If you are lifting 50 pounds and want to increase that amount, add five pounds the next week.

Avoid Training on Uneven Surfaces

Running or hiking downhill is unavoidable sometimes, but going downhill increases friction on the IT band and is also tough on the quadriceps, so it's best to work up to this. As the quads fatigue, they lose the ability to stabilize and control the knee tracking position, which also increases stress on the IT band.

Keep the Knee Joint Covered and Warm

Many athletes fail to protect the knees adequately in cold temperatures. The IT band is particularly susceptible to tightening up, which means it can become less flexible in the cold. Experts recommend that athletes keep their knees covered during sports when the temperature is below 60 degrees.

Strengthen Key Muscles

Doing specific exercises on your "days off" from your running, cycling, or another regular exercise routine will strengthen the muscles, such as the glutes and the quadriceps, that take pressure off the IT band. Some options include step-downs, clamshells, side planks, and squats.

Stretch After Exercising

It's important to stretch after your workout to keep the IT band flexible and prevent it from tightening. Focus on stretches that stretch the hamstrings and glutes in particular.

Roll to Prevent Tightness

Use a foam roller to stretch the IT Band after exercise, when the muscles are warm and supple. If you have IT band tightness, using a foam roller regularly is one of the best things you can do at home to help relieve your pain.

If you do develop tenderness or pain in the IT band, apply ice after exercise as necessary to reduce inflammation and soreness. Over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen and naproxen can relieve pain temporarily.

If the pain continues, talk to your doctor or sports medicine specialist. You may need to take a break from your sport for a while or consider switching it up with a lower-impact activity such as swimming.

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Article Sources
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  2. Lavine R. Iliotibial band friction syndrome. Curr Rev Musculoskelet Med. 2010;3(1-4):18-22. doi:10.1007/s12178-010-9061-8

  3. Khaund, R. et al. Iliotibial Band Syndrome: A Common Source of Knee Pain. Am Fam Physician. 2005 Apr 15;71(8):1545-1550.

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