Medically reviewed by
Dr. Chris Stanley, MD
When people hear about a knee injury, they may think about an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear, a torn meniscus or a worn out knee joint. However, unless you’re a runner or a cyclist, you may not be familiar with iliotibial band (ITB) syndrome.
“The iliotibial band is a fibrous tissue that runs from the outside of the hip and extends down to the knee,” says McLeod Orthopedic Specialist Dr. Chris Stanley. “When this band becomes irritated, a person can feel pain on the lateral side of the knee or the lateral side of the thigh.”
A fluid-filled sac – the bursa – occupies the space between the ITB and the thigh bone (femur) near the knee. If the ITB gets too tight, it puts pressure on the bursa, resulting in pain.
Repetitive movement of the knee, a motion common to running and cycling, can trigger irritation. Research revealed that ITB syndrome accounted for 22% of lower extremity injuries, and 15% of all overuse injuries in the knee region. Up to 14% of runners experience ITB syndrome at some point.
In athletes, ITB syndrome frequently occurs when a runner or cyclist suddenly increases their mileage or switches to uphill and downhill terrain. Even non-athletes, who frequently run up steps, might feel ITB syndrome.
Weak hip muscles, bad running mechanics or improper footwear magnify the problem.
Remedies are generally straightforward. Oral NSAIDs, such as Ibuprofen, will help reduce the pain. Training modifications such as: reducing the distance ran or cycled; avoiding running on angled or hard surfaces; or incorporating cross-training. One needs to incorporate stretching exercises (after a two to five-minute light warm-up), especially before running or cycling. Use ice for 15 to 20 minutes on the outside of the leg after exercising.
If the ITB Syndrome is not treated properly or in a timely fashion, the problem can mimic symptoms of a lateral meniscus tear.
ACTION YOU CAN TAKE
If the pain persists, see an Orthopedic Specialist for a formal examination, a diagnosis and treatment options.
Find an Orthopedic Specialist near you.
Sources include: McLeod Health, National Council on Strength & Fitness, British Medical Journal, National Institutes of Health, Men’s Journal, Runners World, American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons