Iliotibial band or IT band syndrome often is classified as an overuse injury.

The IT band is the long, flexible, fibrous tendon that runs down the outside of the leg from the hip to below the knee joint.

When the IT band becomes inflamed or irritated, it swells and no longer moves freely. The swollen tendon restricts movement or “catches” on the bones of the joint, causing pain and stiffness.

What are the symptoms of IT band syndrome?

The most common symptom of this type of tendon injury is tenderness or a burning sensation near the injured area. Left untreated, the ache becomes a sharp pain when the hip or knee moves.

Snaps, crackles, and pops often accompany pain and stiffness as the tendon grinds its way across the bone.

The stiffness and irritation can cause swelling, making the area warm to the touch.

 What causes IT band injuries?

When a person runs, walks, or cycles, the IT band rubs against the leg bones. Add weight, distance, a strenuous workout, or over-training, and you have a formula for irritation and injury. As a result, athletes who run, cycle, or lift weights are more susceptible to the condition.

But athletes are not the only people who experience the pain and stiffness of an IT band injury.

Weak muscles in the butt, hips, and abdomen contribute to the condition. Sitting is a major culprit in this instance. Hip muscles tighten when a person sits for long stretches of time. Stiff muscles affect the alignment of the IT band, causing discomfort and a loss of flexibility.

There are also physical conditions that predispose a person to IT band injuries.

People who walk with their toes pointing inward have a higher risk of IT band injury. Bowed legs, arthritis, and differences in leg length are other physical characteristics that wreak havoc on the lengthy tendon.

People who wear ill-fitting shoes or high heels can throw the body off balance. Footwear that interferes with the alignment of the back, pelvic, and leg joints put pressure on the IT band. The added strain can cause swelling and inflammation that lead to instability, pain, and stiffness.

But there is good news.

In most causes mentioned above, a change in lifestyle or training schedule can lessen the stress on the IT band and reduce the risk of injury.

How are IT band conditions treated?

If you have IT band pain, seek medical care from an orthopedic provider. They diagnose the problem, find the cause, and provide you with personalized care, treatment, and guidance to get you moving again.

If you can’t see a provider right away, there are some home treatments that may provide relief and promote healing.

Rest your muscles.
Stop the activities that make the pain and stiffness worse.

Move your body.
Add non-weight-bearing exercises for your legs that allow you to continue to move and increase circulation without further irritating the IT band.

Increase leg strength to support the knee joint.
After your IT band injury heals, include leg strengthening exercises into your fitness routine. Increasing balance and strength of abdominal and leg muscles, help lower the risk of injury.

Strengthen and increase the flexibility of the hips and the pelvic floor. Many IT band issues stem from tight or weak hip flexors and pelvic muscles. Add daily stretching or strengthening exercises to improve muscle tone in those areas.

Add stretching to your workout routine.
Stretch before exercise to warm up your muscles and tendons and after exercise to cool them down.

Avoid over-training.
Practice is often necessary, but working too hard can cause temporary or permanent damage to the tendon. It’s better to build up to peak performance slowly rather than trying to speed the process. Pushing yourself to the next level too fast can cause an injury that puts you on the sidelines.

How is an IT band injury diagnosed?

When you see a provider, he or she will ask questions about the symptoms you’re experiencing. They also may order magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to see what is going on inside the leg.

After diagnosing an IT band injury, your provider may prescribe physical therapy, exercises, and over-the-counter pain medications to help you recover.

If conservative treatment doesn’t work, your provider may recommend steroid treatments and, in rare cases, surgery.

If you suffer from an IT band injury, be patient. It can take four to eight weeks for a tendon injury to heal.

If you feel hip or knee pain that gets worse with activity or does not improve after two weeks, contact Bone & Joint. A sports medicine specialist can diagnose your condition and provide you with a personalized treatment plan.

Request an appointment online or call them at 800-445-6442.

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