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Physical Therapy for Your IT Band – Information, Exercises, and More

The pain, swelling, and inflammation of an IT band injury can be life-altering.

As an exercise enthusiast, you’re looking for ways to treat your IT band injury so you can get back to your normal activities.

Dealing with an IT band injury can be overwhelming, but there is hope.

With the right treatment, you can recover and prevent another IT band injury from occurring.

In this guide, we’ll discuss everything you need to know about IT band injuries, treatment options available, and exercises you can do to recover.

What is an IT Band Injury?

The iliotibial band (IT band) is a thick band of fibrous connective tissue that runs along the outer length of your thigh. It connects the outside portion of your tibia (the shin bone) to just below the knee joint.

With the help of your thigh muscles (your quadriceps), the IT band provides stability to the outside of your knee joint during movement.

When the IT band gets too tight, it creates friction when you bend your knee — causing the IT band, and the bursa in your knee, to swell.

This can lead to irritation, inflammation, and pain. Injuries of the IT band are often referred to as IT band syndrome.

What Causes IT Band Injuries?

The most common cause of IT band injuries and IT band syndrome is inflammation of the IT band.

Long-distance runners and bicyclists are extremely at risk for IT band injuries. It is typically caused by inflammation of the IT band.

Anything that puts excessive amounts of pressure on the IT band can cause an injury. These causes include:

  • Repetitive exercises that involve bending of the knee — running, cycling, swimming
  • Increasing exercises too quickly
  • Faulty biomechanics — ie: having bowed legs
  • Improper training techniques
  • Excessive training
  • Muscle tightness or lack of flexibility

Common IT Band Injury Cause #1: Incorrect Training Techniques

One of the most common reasons for IT injuries is using improper training techniques. Examples of these mistakes include:

  • Not stretching enough prior to exercising
  • Pushing too hard during a workout
  • Lack of rest between workouts
  • Training in worn-out sneakers

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Common IT Band Injury Cause #2: Faulty Biomechanics

Sometimes, genetics alone may make you more susceptible to an IT band injury, like:

  • Bowed legs
  • Having one leg that’s longer than the other
  • Rotating your leg or foot inward when you walk or run
  • Knee arthritis
  • Muscle weakness in your abs, hips, or glutes
  • Knee valgus

IT Band Injury Symptoms

People with mild IT band injuries may only feel the symptoms before and after a workout — specifically when running, cycling, or other exercises with repetitive leg movements.

A person may also experience:

  • Clicking, popping, or snapping on the outside of the knee
  • Tightness at the area of injury
  • Mild hip pain
  • Lack of flexibility
  • Sharp pain — typically at the outside of the knee, at or below the lateral femoral epicondyle.
  • Tenderness — near the knee when in a standing position or when the knee is bent at 30 degrees.
  • Warmth and redness around the knee
  • Pain when running — especially when on a decline, and is usually felt when the runner’s foot hits the ground

IT Band Injury Treatment

IT band treatments depend on the extent of the injury.

For a low-grade IT band injury, your doctor may recommend:

  • RICE (rest, ice, compression, and elevation) treatment
  • Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medicines — ibuprofen or naproxen
  • A few days off from training or exercise
  • And fixing any external causes — buying better shoes, avoiding downhill runs, etc.

When the swelling and pain subside, your doctor may refer you to a specialist for treatment to improve range-of-motion and flexibility of the IT band. Physical therapy is one of the most common treatment plans for these injuries.

In most cases, IT band injuries are treated with physical therapy and non-surgical treatment. More severe cases may require surgery.

Your doctor may recommend band lengthening surgery for more severe IT band injuries if your symptoms have not subsided within six months of the injury.

IT Band Physical Therapy – Will PT Help?

IT band physical therapy can help reduce pain and inflammation caused by IT band injuries.

Your physical therapist may focus on simply increasing your flexibility and range-of-motion of the affected area.

Aside from helping you regain your range-of-motion, your therapist may also help find the cause of the problem, by looking at your muscle strength, and learning about your gait — the way you walk, run, or cycle — and how they affect your IT band.

Physical therapy exercises will not only help you treat an IT band injury, but they can help prevent an injury from happening again in the future.

Best IT Band Exercises

It’s important that you don’t keep doing exercises or activities that are causing your IT band pain. Instead, it is recommended that you do stretches and strength training exercises that relieve your symptoms.

In this section, we’ll discuss some of the most common IT band exercises that your physical therapist or doctor may recommend.

Before trying any of the exercises at home, be sure to consult your physician.

Common IT Band Physical Therapy Exercises: Stretching

Some of the most common stretches recommended for IT band treatment include:

  • Glute stretches
  • Deep lumbar rotation
  • Quad stretches
  • Spinal rotation
  • Rotating IT band stretch
  • Crossbody stretches

Common IT Band Physical Therapy Exercises: Strength Training

When the pain and swelling have subsided, your doctor or physical therapist may recommend strength training exercises.

These exercises improve the strength in your legs and reduce the tension in the IT band.

Strengthening the gluteus medius muscle, for example, helps keep your knees in proper alignment when running, walking, or jumping. Exercises that help improve the gluteus medius strength are:

  • Clamshells
  • Hip hikes
  • Straight leg raises
  • Bridges

Other strengthening exercises to help reduce IT syndrome pain may include:

  • Standing hip motions
  • Pistol squats
  • Hip hikes
  • Hip thrusts
  • Forward and side lunges

Always consult your physician or healthcare professional before performing any physical therapy exercises for IT band syndrome or injuries.

How In Motion O.C. Can Help With IT Band Injuries

IT band injuries are something you should never ignore. No one should live with the pain and inconvenience.

In Motion O.C. has helped dozens of patients going through the same IT band injuries as you. We understand how inconvenient living with an injury like IT band syndrome can be.

Our team of compassionate physical therapists can help.

We’re committed to providing the best care to our patients, to ensure they can live their best lives.

*This information about physical therapy for IT band was reviewed by Dr Natalie Thomas, PT, DPT. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us here.

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