Many tend to experience pain or injury in the IT (iliotibial) bands. But what is the IT band anyway? While some may think of it as a muscle, it is actually a fascia (a connective tissue) that runs from the outside of your hip to the knee and down to your shin. This tissue doesn't need to be strengthened (it is already incredibly tough), and cannot be stretched either as it's not flexible. Still, these misconceptions can often complicate treatment of IT Band Syndrome. When the IT band becomes inflamed it can cause swelling and pain on the outside of the knee.
If this is what you experience, try to reduce or stop high impact exercise like running and start doing lower-impact activities like swimming or cycling, and seek a sports medicine doctor if the pain persists. But one of the best ways to prevent this condition is to train consistently, picking up the pace gradually. If you ramp up your exercise routine too quickly - from not running at all to 5+ miles a day, or trying to fit all of your exercise into the weekends, there will likely be a greater chance that you'll end up in pain.
If your IT band is too tight, the first thing you should do is visit a doctor and get the correct diagnosis, as well as discuss treatment options. Then, practice healing exercises to strengthen and loosen the surrounding muscles. Try the following moves:
Why: Your glutes should be strong enough to keep your hips level while running. If they aren't strong enough, the IT bands will have to compensate for the lack of strength in your glutes which can cause tightness and inflammation. Step downs will help strengthen your side glutes:
1. Find a 2-inch platform to use, like a book. Then step one foot on the platform tapping the other foot down to the ground gently. Then bring it up to join the other foot on the top platform. Keep most of your weight on the supporting leg. Do this for 15 repetitions, taking about two seconds to tap down and two seconds to tap up.
2. Repeat on the other leg for 15 repetitions, then switch back to the starting leg for another set. Perform for a total of three sets of 15 repetitions on each leg.
Why: This exercise is a great way to strengthen all of your gluteal muscles, as well as the quadriceps that will help level out your hips and prevent your IT band from working overtime.
1. Stand on one foot with the other leg lifted and extended out in front of you, foot flexed. Keep your hips in alignment and hold steady for 90 seconds.
2. Repeat on the other side.
Why: Single leg squats work your entire glutes and quads to keep your hips level. This realignment will help your running form and put less stress on your IT band.
1. Find a bench or an 18" to 24" tall box and stand directly in front of it. Start as described in the exercise above.
2. Keep your hips level, bend into your standing leg and take three seconds to lower your butt to just above the bench. Take three seconds to rise back up. Perform 15 reps on this side. Then repeat on the other side.
Exercise 3: Lateral Quad Roll
Why: While the IT band itself may not be very supple, the structures surrounding it are. The side of the quad, therefore, is what really needs to be loosened and massaged deeply. To perform this move, you'll need a foam roller that will restore the tissue.
1. Lie on your side and position the foam roller just below the hipbone of the bottom leg. Stack your hips and cross the top leg over and rest that foot on the floor in front of you.
2. Roll the foam roller down the length of the side of your thigh, until you reach just above the side of the knee. Reverse to roll back. If you hit any exceptionally sensitive spots, breathe deeply until the sensitivity subsides. Take approximately 30 seconds to roll down and 30 seconds to roll back up. Perform three repetitions and repeat on the other side.