If you have knee pain, you might assume that you have a muscle or ligament-related injury. In some cases, however, your pain may be the result of a condition known as iliotibial band syndrome.
Also known as IT band syndrome or ITBS, this condition involves the band of fibrous tissue that runs along the outside of the thigh. The iliotibial band helps stabilize the knee and prevent dislocation. When it becomes inflamed, pain and swelling often occur as a result.
If left untreated, IT band syndrome can lead to scarring in the bursa, the small fluid-filled sacs that cushion the knee. This can cause decreased range of motion in the knee and increased pain.
What Causes Iliotibial Band Syndrome?
ITBS is an overuse injury most commonly seen in patients between the ages of 15 and 50.
Any repetitive activity in which the leg turns inward can lead to this condition, as this type of motion causes the iliotibial band to tighten and rub against the bone. Due to anatomical differences in the knee and thigh, women are more likely than men to develop ITBS.
Cyclists, tennis players and athletes who regularly participate in aerobic activities are at an increased risk for IT band syndrome. However, long-distance runners are at greatest risk, however. Studies show that up to 7.5 percent of regular distance runners suffer from IT band syndrome.
ITBS is particularly prominent in runners who have poor running biometric or weak hip abductors, or those who frequently run on banked or downhill surfaces.
How Is Iliotibial Band Syndrome Treated?
Initial treatment for ITBS involves the R.I.C.E technique, or rest, ice, compression and elevation.
Sports medicine physicians recommend modifying your exercise regimen, begin a strengthening program to address weak gluteal or core muscles, and consider a video running gate analysis.
If symptoms fail to improve after several weeks, physical therapy may be advised. To reduce inflammation and pain, a corticosteroid may be injected into the irritated bursa.
For those patients who do not improve with more conservative treatment approaches, orthopedic surgery must be used to release the IT band.
Can ITBS Be Prevented?
Although no sports injury is entirely preventable, you can take steps to reduce your chances of developing ITBS.
If you experience any pain or swelling on the outside of the knee, take a few days off from running or your chosen sport. When you do run, choose your route carefully. Avoid concrete surfaces and stick to areas where the ground is flat and even. If you opt to run on a track, change directions frequently to avoid overstressing the IT band.
Finally, check your shoes. If they are worn along the outside edge, it’s time to invest in a new pair.
If the pain persists, make an appointment with an orthopedic surgeon or sports medicine specialist to avoid causing further damage.