Iliotibial Band Syndrome for Runners: What It Is, How To Overcome It

Iliotibial Band (IT Band) Syndrome is one of the most common injuries for runners – it’s often the cause of runner’s knee.

In this post, we’re going to look at what IT Band Syndrome really is, what causes it, how to prevent and treat it  . . . and perhaps most importantly . . . 

. . . how you can continue your running while dealing with IT Band issues!

What Is The Iliotibial Band (the IT Band)?

Iliotibial Band Syndrome for Runners: What It Is, How To Overcome It 1

The iliotibial band, or IT band, is the band of muscle and tissues that runs along the outside of your upper leg, connecting your hip to your knee.

It is responsible for stabilizing your body and helping to extend and rotate your hips when you stand, walk, and run.

It also moves your knee joint!

So, when the IT band becomes injured, it can lead to pain in your leg or runner’s knee.

This common ailment haunts many runners because it can mean a lot of discomfort and worse, no running.

What is IT Band Syndrome?

IT band syndrome, or ITB syndrome, is when your iliotibial band has become inflamed or tight.

This leads to the band not functioning properly, destabilizing your body and your knee. 

Any type of imbalance in the body will present itself when you run!

As a result, your body must overcompensate for the weak areas and overuse the stronger muscles. Iliotibial Band Syndrome for runners is a very common complaint!

What are the symptoms of Iliotibial Band Syndrome for runners?

There are a few different symptoms of IT band syndrome.

The most common symptom is knee pain, often described as runner’s knee (this term is used for almost any running-related knee pain).

Pain from runner’s knee is located on the outside of the knee, where the IT band connects to the knee joint.

Many runners think they are suffering from a knee injury when they experience this pain.

However, the cause lies with the tight, inflamed IT band.

Runner’s knee differs from other knee injuries because it doesn’t cause any swelling and the pain usually starts after about five minutes into your run.

In addition to runner’s knee, you may feel pain anywhere along the side of your outer thigh, most commonly near your hip.

You may also feel tightness in this area. In extreme cases, this area will also be sensitive to touch.

What causes IT Band Syndrome in Runners?

Iliotibial Band Syndrome for runners is usually caused by overuse.

Runners tend to overdo it when it comes to training!

You’re especially prone to runner’s knee if you’ve ramped up your mileage in recent weeks – for example, when in training for a marathon.

IT Band Syndrome can also come from:

– using shoes with too many miles on them,

– running along uneven surfaces,

– or running downhill.

Some runners find that their IT band becomes inflamed when they don’t vary their track workouts enough.

Poor form can also cause IT band issues for runners.

If your legs turn inward when you run, then you are much more likely to suffer from IT band syndrome.

Imbalances in your body, like weak or tight glutes, can also cause pain and tightness.

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How To Prevent IT Band Syndrome for Runners

The best way to prevent IT band syndrome is to increase your mileage slowly.

Aim for no more than a 10% increase in your mileage every week – this is the classic ‘10%’  Rule of Thumb (they exist for a reason!).

Many runners’ IT bands are tight from a lack of TLC . . . for example not stretching, foam rolling, or icing after runs.

Foam rolling and stretching after a run is a really great way to keep your muscles loose and circulation flowing.

Take the time to roll out your IT band after every run.

It may be very painful at first, so take your time and don’t push yourself too hard.

You can correct the imbalances in your body by strengthening both your core and glutes.

This will help take some work off of the IT band and is an effective IT band treatment while you run.

You can do squats, deadlifts, planks, and crunches throughout the week to keep these muscles strong and activated.

Finally, you can avoid IT band syndrome by changing up your gear.

Be sure to take your shoes out of rotation when you reach too many miles and the tread wears down (here are the signs it’s time to change your running shoes).

If you think you overpronate, you can buy inserts to correct your gait so your legs won’t turn in every time you run.

Can I Keep Running with IT Band Syndrome?

The best way to treat you IT band syndrome is with rest, followed by strengthening exercises.

However, most runners aren’t fans of this option! 

If you plan to keep running, try to cut back on how often you run and supplement your missing miles with other forms of cardio.

You can also take this time to cross train and strengthen your muscles, especially your glutes; specific exercises are given later in this article.

You can also use kinesio tape to alleviate any discomfort while running – I detail how down below!

Treating Iliotibial Band Syndrome for Runners

While rest is the best IT band treatment, you can also treat IT bands for runners by foam rolling, stretching, icing, and visiting a physical therapist, chiropractor, or other functional fitness doctors.

For most of us, a regime of stretching and resistance training at home or in the gym is usually enough to fix the underlying issues causing IT Band Syndrome.

However, it is often worth visiting a sports physio – especially if you want rapid results.

They can use electrical stimulation, ultrasounds, and even shots to help you feel better.

Depending on how severe your syndrome is, you may benefit from shots or needle therapy to break up the scar tissue that you cannot stretch out on your own.

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Exercises to Treat IT Band Syndrome

The best exercises to avoid inflaming your IT band include stretching and strengthening your glutes, quads, hamstrings, and core.

It is incredibly important to strengthen the IT band for runners!

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Side planks are a great way to the strengthen entire side of your body.

When you hold a side plank, see if you can lift your top leg up for an extra challenge! Aim to hold your plank for up to one minute at a time.

You can do this on both sides 2 – 3 times per workout.

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Another great exercise is side leg abductions.

You can do abductor exercises on machines in the gym, or you can do them at home on the floor.

Lay on your side and make sure your hips are stacked on top of each other. Slowly lift your top leg up and bring it back down with your foot flexed the entire time. You can do 3 sets of 10 reps before switching sides.

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Finally, the clamshell is another excellent exercise for strengthening your hips and glutes.

Once again, lay on your side with your hips stacked. Bend your knees so that they are at a 45-degree angle. Slowly lift your top leg, but keep your feet touching. You don’t want to raise this leg too high, because it will move your hips. You should feel this in your glutes after a few reps! Do 10 reps for 3 sets and make sure to do the same on the other side.

Kinesio Taping IT Band Syndrome For Runners

Kinesio taping can be a very effective way of alleviating IT band-related discomfort.

Note: Kinesio taping does not treat runner’s knee – it simply puts tension onto your knee area in such a manner that it alleviates the friction that inflames your IT band.

The secret is in how you tape your knee.  

The follow video explains how to apply the tape properly:

To summarize:

IT Band Syndrome does not mean you can’t run anymore.

While resting and strengthening exercises are the best way to recover, other options do exist.

If you don’t want to suspend your running training, invest in some kinesio tape – and keep up the strengthening exercises too!  Remember, the tape just alleviates the condition, it doesn’t treat it.

Don’t forget . . .if you feel too much pain while you run, stop!

It’s better to cut a run short than push yourself and seriously injure your IT band!

With a little patience and TLC, you’ll be back to running pain-free in no time!

References:

https://www.runnersworld.com/health-injuries/a19576110/iliotibial-band-syndrome/#targetText=Iliotibial%20band%20syndrome%20(also%20known,knee%E2%80%94is%20tight%20or%20inflamed

https://www.healthline.com/health/it-band

https://www.webmd.com/pain-management/it-band-syndrome#1

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/320757.php

Thomas Watson

Thomas Watson

Thomas Watson is an ultra-runner, UESCA-certified running coach, and the founder of MarathonHandbook.com. His work has been featured in Runner's World, Livestrong.com, MapMyRun, and many other running publications. He likes running interesting races and good beer. More at his bio.

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