When IT Causes Knee Pain

IT band syndrome is a nickname for iliotibial band syndrome, a condition affecting the thick, fibrous band of tissue that runs from the pelvis to the top of the shin and keeps the knee stable and functioning when you walk or run. When the IT band becomes irritated or inflamed, patients feel knee pain that can radiate from the side of the knee all the way into the hip. The pain often increases as the heel strikes the ground when walking or running, and can be accompanied by swelling and a popping sensation felt when the knee is bent.

IT band syndrome is most common in long-distance runners who make unconscious training mistakes leading to overuse or muscle strain, but underlying physical factors can also be at play. Having a pelvis that tilts abnormally or being bowlegged can create a situation where the IT band becomes over-stretched.

If the inflammation and irritation of IT band syndrome is caused by poor body mechanics, lack of flexibility, and weakness in the quadriceps and other leg muscles, physical therapy can correct these issues. You will most likely need to refrain from running or other activities that exacerbate the condition until we can get your leg back into working condition,and substitute low-impact alternatives such as swimming.

We will work on reducing pain and inflammation using ice, rest and anti-inflammatory medications (if your physician agrees), while slowly introducing exercises that increase flexibility and strength in hamstrings, quadriceps, the gluteus muscles and other musculature affecting IT band movement. It might also be useful to observe your running or walking gait to make sure that no biomechanical issues are contributing to IT syndrome.

Aside from helping you achieve proper form, we can recommend shoes or orthotics to correct foot or leg abnormalities that might also be at fault. In addition to strengthening and stretching, we may recommend other strategies, such as ultrasound to enhance the delivery of topically applied analgesics or corticosteroid injections (by your physician) if the condition is severe and pain keeps you from progressing with your therapy.

Once your initial rehabilitation is completed, we can design an at-home program to ensure that you maintain endurance, flexibility and strength in your hips, legs, knees and core. With our guidance, you can return to your workout activities without fear of IT band syndrome slowing you down!