Do You Have IT Band Syndrome?

If you aren’t familiar with scientific or biological terms for the body, IT band sounds like something to do with computers or a quirky name for a rock band where the members wear nerd glasses and computer store golfers.

But nope. I’m talking about the tendon that runs from your hip to your knee along the outer edge. The iliotibial band.

This has been a long time issue of mine. I feel the pain in my knees when I have let myself go as it were. My right knee especially. Couch potato-ing for a few weeks just ain’t for me.

It usually starts up after I’ve jogged for a minute or two when I’ve been really lax. This is part of the reason why I rarely go for a jog.

I live in a very hilly area, so a walk usually suffices. When I do jog, uphills are a killer but my knees are happier.

As terrible as the word syndrome sounds, in most cases IT Band Syndrome is easy to fix.

It takes time. But consistent effort directed in the right way will bring you a lot of relief and may even provide protection for these important joints.

What is IT Band Syndrome?

Simply put, IT Band Syndrome is an overuse injury. The IT band moves as you bend and straighten your knees. If it moves incorrectly for whatever reason, this results in inflammation and even worse damage when left untreated.

IT Band Syndrome Symptoms

  • Pain on the outside of the knee, especially during running
  • Clicking with or without pain when extending and bending the knee
  • Swelling
  • Constant pain even during very little activity and decreased range of motion

Do You Have Weak Knees?

When I was young, my kneecap would sometimes slip out of place a little bit and pinch the nerve. I remember one very dramatic day when the bell rang for the end of break and my friends and I started running towards the square (assembly point).

We came all the way from the bottom field so we generally had to run to make it before the second bell. If you were late, you got into trouble. So on this fateful day as we ran, my kneecap did it’s slidy thing and I went down. I tried to get up but it hurt a lot.

My friends tried to get me up and hook my arms around their shoulders to help me walk, but it would have slowed them down. Through the pain, I begged them to go on without me. They fiercly replied that they would not leave me.

In our defense, this was primary school. If you’re ever going to be melodramatic and get away with it, it’s during these years.

Anyway, my knee slid back into place as it usually did after a bit and we started back up. We made it just in time.

If you’re wondering, yes, I am still friends with these wonderful ladies who are my sistas from anotha mista. A few years prior to that, I attended ballet classes which is where I met these two girls. While I really wanted to be a ballerina, the main reason my parents had me do ballet was because my feet pointed inwards.

I always understood that I had weak knees and ankles. It didn’t stop me from dancing and doing sporting activities. And although athletics can be rough on the knees, strengthening the muscles is definitely beneficial.

I don’t struggle with that kneecap issue anymore, haven’t since about grade 5. I had a much better time of it with my knees and ankles in high school with a few exceptions here and there. Playing hockey where you’re almost permanently in a squat will work wonders for your legs and booty strength-wise.

But as an adult, my knees started hurting again, especially when I run. After much research and a trip to the doctor, I know it’s not that I have weak knees.

It’s that I have some weak muscles and some tight muscles. In other words, a muscular imbalance due to not getting a well-rounded workout and bouts of intense laziness that lasts for days and weeks at time every so often.

What About IT Band Hip Pain?

Some people may feel IT band pain in their hips too. This is called hip bursitis. It’s usually caused by a tight IT band.

It’s worth a trip to the doctor to make sure nothing else is wrong. But otherwise, you will find the suggested treatments helpful.

It’s All in the Butt and Thighs

It’s even in the core and back. Often a weak core causes your lower back to over compensate leading to tight lower back muscles.

This in turn leads to a weak bum and tight quads (the front of your thighs) and/or hip flexors (the muscles that let you lift your legs).

In my case, I know I have a weak core, weak quads and tight hamstrings. I also, sadly, have a weak butt. There’s nothing like noticing your butt looking a little saggy to startle you into action though.

Before this whole covid story, I had been working the side of my butt and doing helpful stretches. Even within just a few weeks of correcting my form when squatting and catering for my entire backside ensured that I could jog triple the distance before pain set in.

Yip, your butt is made up of multiple muscles. If you were like me and exercised with poor form or if you religiously did donkey kicks and nothing else, you have woefully neglected a large portion of your butt.

Donkey kicks in their regular form only work the gluteus maximus, the largest muscle in your butt. But you need to work the gluteus minimus and medius too as well as the deeper muscles. I think of these muscles as my “side butt”.

Other structural issues like having your hips tilting out of the neutral position due to one leg being longer than the other can also cause these issues.

Immediate IT Band Treatment

Unless you’re in a lot of pain, you likely don’t need to go to the doctor, although I would always recommend doing so to be on the safe side.

Where structural problems are the cause, a trip to the doctor is required for treatment options.

If you find that you are in pain, REST!

This is the first step in the RICE protocol:

  • Rest: Take a break whether it’s for a few days or for a few weeks as needed or only perform activities that don’t cause pain.
  • Ice: This will help to counteract the inflammation. Ice it every few hours, or twice an hour in serious cases, for 20 minutes max at a time. You can switch to heat after around 72 hours.
  • Compression: Binding your knee firmly but not too tightly can help to decrease the swelling. Loosen the bandage if it causes tingling, numbness or increased swelling.
  • Elevate: Prop your knee up on some pillows to help alleviate the swelling.

IT Band Exercises for Long-Term Treatment and Prevention

Make time to do these exercises 3-4 times a week.

As you will see from the images, you don’t need a whole lot of space. My knees prefer the extra cushioning of the rug and Pilates mat. If you don’t have these, a towel or three is helpful.

Excuse the quality of the images, a model and photographer I am not. I used my bookcase to hold my phone, so the lounge looks very topsy turvy and some images have the shelves in them! Oops…

Fire Hydrants

  1. Get onto all fours
  2. Keeping your back neutral, raise your bent leg out to the side slowly
  3. Lower it back down
  4. Repeat 8-15 times and repeat on the other side
  5. Do 2-3 sets
  6. You can use ankle weights to make it harder once you get stronger

Side Leg raises

  1. Lie on your side with your head comfortably propped up on your hand
  2. Use your top arm to support your body
  3. Keeping your top leg straight, raise it up slowly
  4. Lower it back down
  5. Repeat 8-15 times
  6. Do 2-3 sets
  7. You can use ankle weights to increase the resistance as you get stronger

Glute Bridges

  1. Lie on your back with your legs bent, knees pointing to the ceiling
  2. Contract your stomach muscles so that your back flattens out
  3. Keeping your core tight, lift your butt to form a straight line from your knees to shoulders
  4. Ensure that your knees are in line with the direction of your legs, not collapsing inward
  5. Hold for a few seconds and lower your booty back down
  6. Repeat 8-15 times
  7. Do 2-3 sets
  8. To increase the resistance, you can do a single leg glute bridge or place a weight on your pelvis

Travelling Squats

  1. From a standing position, lower yourself into a squat (knees out and behind your toes)
  2. Then, staying in that squat position, step out with your right leg, then follow with your left
  3. Do this 3-5 times, do the same back towards your starting position
  4. You can either stand back up and lower back down or just stay in that same squat to do it all again 2-4 times
  5. Do 2-3 sets
  6. To increase resistance, hold a weight as with a goblet squat or you could also just do more sets

IT Band Stretches to Prevent Imbalances

Stretching out tight muscles prevents shortening of the muscles and also feels good. Stretching regularly also helps to prevent injuries.

You should feel a gentle stretch, if it hurts you are going to far and are risking injury. If you can’t go far at first, don’t worry, your body will become more flexible if you stretch regularly.

I recommend that you warm up before you stretch. These static stretches (meaning you stay in one position for some time) should be performed after your workout, not before to prevent injury.

Do these stretches once each or repeat them 2-4 times if you are doing a stretching workout.

The Standing IT Band Stretch

While there is another version of this stretch where you stay upright and lean out to the side, I prefer this version. Less risk of falling over!

  1. Stand tall and cross your legs at the ankle
  2. Then bend over as you would to do a normal hamstring-back stretch
  3. Hold for 15-45 seconds
  4. Come back up and switch sides

The Seated IT Band Stretch

  1. Sit down as if you’re about to cross your legs, but instead put one leg in front of the other
  2. Lean forward and try to touch the ground
  3. Hold for 15-45 seconds
  4. Sit up again and switch sides

Seated Hip and IT Band Stretch

  1. Sit up with your back straight and legs straight
  2. Bend one leg, foot on the ground, knee facing the ceiling
  3. Keep your back straight and place your opposite arm around that knee and gently twist your torso and look over your shoulder
  4. Gently support yourself with your free hand
  5. Hold for 15-45 seconds
  6. Release the stretch and switch sides

The Pigeon Pose

  1. Sit with one leg bent in front of you and the other one straight out behind you and use your arms to support your upper body
  2. Gently lower your torso until you feel a stretch in the side of your butt
  3. Hold for 15-45 seconds
  4. Come back up and then switch sides

The key to sorting out these issues is consistency. In the meantime, stick to low impact workouts. For example, walking, swimming or cycling is preferable to running while you have this issue.

It took me about a month to notice a real difference. So don’t give up after a week or two. Keep including exercises and stretches that target your “side butt” along with your other strength exercises.

Let me know if these exercises worked for you or which exercises you use to combat this issue. Which is your favorite. I like the fire hydrants. It burns so good even if it makes me feel like a dog taking a leak :p

Feature image: Photo by Jasmin Schreiber on Unsplash

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