Iliotibial Band Syndrome
What is iliotibial band syndrome?
Iliotibial band syndrome is often called IT band syndrome. It's a health problem that
causes pain on the outside of the knee. It most commonly happens in athletes, especially
distance runners, or those new to exercise.
The bones of your knee joint are your thighbone (femur), your shinbone (tibia), and
your kneecap (patella). Your iliotibial band is a strong, thick band of tissue that
runs down the outside of your thigh. It extends all the way from your hip bones to
the top of your shinbone.
When you bend and extend your leg, this band moves over the outer lower edge of your
thighbone. With repeated bending and extending of the knee, this movement of the iliotibial
band may irritate nearby tissues, causing pain.
Anyone can develop iliotibial band syndrome. But it's fairly common in distance runners.
What causes iliotibial band syndrome?
Researchers are still debating the exact cause of iliotibial band syndrome. The pain
may result directly from friction as the iliotibial band moves over the lower outer
edge of the thighbone. This may cause inflammation in the bone, tendons, and small,
fluid-filled sacs in the area. The iliotibial band may also abnormally compress the
tissue beneath it, causing pain.
Whatever the specific cause, it's clear that repetitive bending and extending of the
knee is in some way responsible for iliotibial band syndrome.
Who is at risk for iliotibial band syndrome?
Iliotibial band syndrome happens most commonly in distance runners. But it may also
happen from other sports, like cycling, skiing, rowing, or soccer.
If you're a runner, you might be more likely to develop iliotibial band syndrome if
What are the symptoms of iliotibial band syndrome?
Iliotibial band syndrome causes pain on the outside of the knee. It might affect one
or both of your knees. The pain is an aching, burning feeling that sometimes spreads
up the thigh to the hip. You might notice this pain only when you exercise, especially
while running. The pain tends to be worst right after you strike your foot, and it
might only start up near the end of your workout. As the condition gets worse, your
pain might start earlier and continue even after you've stopped exercising. Activities
that might worsen your pain include going up and down the stairs.
How is iliotibial band syndrome diagnosed?
Your healthcare provider will begin with a health history. They will also ask about
your other health problems as well as your current symptoms. The provider will do
a physical exam, including a thorough exam of your knee. This will include tests of
your range of motion, strength, and sore areas of your knee. Your provider will need
to distinguish between iliotibial band syndrome and other possible causes of your
knee pain. These can include osteoarthritis or a meniscal tear.
Usually, your healthcare provider won't need any additional tests to diagnose iliotibial
band syndrome. If the diagnosis is unclear, you might need imaging tests, like an
X-ray or MRI, to rule out other possible causes.
How is iliotibial band syndrome treated?
Your healthcare provider might suggest several different treatment strategies to help
ease your symptoms. These might include:
Limiting activities that make your knee pain worse for a while (like running), and
returning to these activities slowly
Icing the outside of your knee
Taking over-the-counter pain medicines
Getting corticosteroid shots to decrease inflammation
Making changes to your activity, like lowering your bicycle seat for cycling or improving
your running form
Practicing special exercises to stretch and strengthen the muscles around your hip
and your knee
You may find it helpful to work with a physical therapist as well.
These changes help most people with iliotibial band syndrome. Your healthcare provider
might advise surgery if you still have significant symptoms after 6 months of trying
these other therapies. Several different surgical choices exist, including one that
removes the part of the iliotibial band that moves over the femur. You can discuss
all your surgical choices with your healthcare provider.
What can I do to prevent iliotibial band syndrome?
In some cases, iliotibial band syndrome is preventable. To help prevent a flare-up,
take care to:
Run on even surfaces.
Replace your running shoes regularly.
Ease up on your training.
If you run on a track, make sure you run in both directions.
Have an expert check your stance for running and other sporting activities.
Stretch your outer thigh and hamstrings regularly.
If you're new to exercise, start slowly and gradually increase your activity.
Ask your healthcare provider or trainer if they have additional advice.
When should I call my healthcare provider?
If your symptoms don't start to improve after several weeks of treatment, plan to
see your healthcare provider soon. You may have a different kind of problem with your
Key points about iliotibial band syndrome
Iliotibial band syndrome causes pain on the outside of your knee.
It often happens in athletes, especially distance runners. But anyone can get it.
Using incorrect sporting equipment and having a poor running stance may increase your
chance of having this condition.
Most people respond to treatment such as pain medicines, ice, stretching, and strengthening
exercises, and limiting the activity for a while.
Some people may need surgery to treat the condition.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider:
Know the reason for your visit and what you want to happen.
Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
Bring someone with you to help you ask questions and remember what your provider tells
At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis, and any new medicines, treatments,
or tests. Also write down any new instructions your provider gives you.
Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed, and how it will help you. Also
know what the side effects are.
Ask if your condition can be treated in other ways.
Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the results could mean.
Know what to expect if you do not take the medicine or have the test or procedure.
If you have a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that
Know how you can contact your provider if you have questions.