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Prescription for Life
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The Iliotibial Bane

Ah, IT band syndrome. This is the most commonly injured tendon in a runner. In my clinic, I see this probably once a day and more often during running season.

But what is it? The Iliotibial band is a long tract of tendon that begins at the upper portion of the leg and goes along the outside of the leg all the way to the outside of the knee. The muscle that controls that tendon is on the outside of the hip. The IT band has multiple functions. Its main function is the abduction (lifting the leg to the outside) of the leg. Its secondary functions include helping in squatting, standing and running/walking when putting weight on that leg so as to keep your leg steady.

What many don’t know is that when walking and running, there is a slight amount of abduction that occurs with each stride. Couple that with the consistent amount of repetitive weight-bearing strain, and you can see why it’s so commonly overstrained and injured to walkers/runners.

Some common symptoms of IT band syndrome include hip pain on the outside of the hip after standing/walking/running, outside knee pain after standing/walking/running, shooting pains down the outside of the leg, snapping sensation on the outside of the hip or knee and occasional swelling on the outside of the knee that gets better when resting.

The good news is that very rarely does one need to stop exercising when this is strained.  Admittedly, I’ve told a few runners to stop for a few weeks to let it rest (which is the best treatment for it in the end), but that is only temporary, and they are able to get back to their activity fairly quickly.

It also has many different methods of treatment. Let’s look at some:

1)      Cross frictional massage – rub the knee portion of the IT band perpendicular to the fibers of the IT band

2)      Ice massage – take a small cup and freezing water in it. Then rubbing that frozen water on the area of pain for 10 to 15 minutes

3)      Stretching after a warm up and during a cool down

4)      IT band straps – wrap around the leg and put pressure just above the area of pain when running to take some pressure off the tendon

5)      Foam rollers/hand rollers – they break up adhesions/scar tissue that forms with tendonitis, as well as work out lactic acid buildup and help loosen the muscle fibers.

There are a few more, but if anyone starts getting symptoms like IT band syndrome, I would first recommend trying these tried and true methods of treatment at home. If they don’t work, then it’s time to see your physician for further recommendations.

There are other options, including corticosteroid injections, PRP injections, prolotherapy injections and physical therapy that can help, but see your physician before considering these. Many times a biomechanical issue of the lower extremities needs to be corrected to prevent further strain on the tendon.

All in all, this injury is more of a nuisance than anything else. It is correctable, but it is also important to start the home treatments early and often if you feel it coming on. It is also important to know your limits and when to see your physician. Good luck and happy running!

Michael Messmer, DO, is a sports medicine physician at St. Francis Family Medicine at Hunter’s Ridge. Always check with your doctor before beginning any exercise regimen.

Posted by MMessmer on 06/08/2012 at 9:57 AM Add Comment

Contributor Profile
 Michael Messmer, D.O.
 Sports Medicine Physician
 Dr. Messmer, board certified in family practice and sports medicine, is a physician at St. Francis Family Medicine at Hunter's Ridge. He enjoys martial arts, hockey, sucba diving, weight lifting, backpacking and camping. He also speaks Spanish.