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What is the IT Band…

Unless you’re an avid runner, into cycling or repetitively walking long distances, it’s likely that you’ve never heard of this band of tissue. The IT band is a long, thick band of tissue that runs along the outside of the upper leg extending across the knee joint and attaching to the shin. You notice I haven’t said the word “muscle” when describing the band of tissue, because contrary to all beliefs the IT band is NOT a muscle. The IT band is the more like a hybrid of a tendon and a ligament as it does connect a muscle, the Tensor Fasciae Latae, and a bone, the iliac crest (the hip) to the shin bone.

As mentioned above, the causes of IT band injuries generally stem from repetitive lower extremity activities that cause increased tightness or friction to the underlying structures. Although the IT band runs alongside the upper leg, the pain may be felt anywhere from the hip down to the knee. When IT band pain is present in the hip, it generally has to the do with irritation of the bursa, a fluid-filled sac that lies underneath the band of tissue to prevent friction at the joint between muscles, tendons and bones. When IT band is down towards the knee it is generally due to the taut band rubbing or “popping” over the bony structures, the lateral condyle, of the knee joint.

As you can imagine, added friction leads to increased inflammation, also known, as swelling which can alter one’s ability to perform common and otherwise pain free hip and knee movements. Along with inflammation, some other signs and symptoms of IT band injuries include: “popping” on the outside of the knee, increased pain with initial activity or pain that worsens with increased activity, pain specific to downhill running/stairs, crackling sounds (crepitus), and pain when the affected side strikes the ground with running.

Treatment for IT band injuries always begins with decreasing the pain and inflammation first and the move to loosening the tissue enough to reduce friction, which often forces the patient to stop their activities. Once the IT band tightness and pain is minimal, next we look to strength the surrounding muscles that may have led to the initial problems. Most people with IT band issues are accompanied with weaker hip musculature, intrinsic foot weakness, as well as poor quadriceps control. Why would we look elsewhere besides the source of pain you ask? When evaluating any injuries, you should always look at the joint above and below as the body moves as one. For instance, weak hips allow the knees to cave inward, which shortens the path along the IT band…which leads to tightness! Once the quadriceps and hips are strengthened and general form and technique has been perfected with exercises, the patient will then begin more of sport specific training. Sport specific training is done at the end to allow for carry over from basic exercises, to in-play motions, which helps to decrease the likelihood of re-injury.

By: Cierra Washington, ATC

Here at Loudoun Sports Therapy Center we offer one-hour initial evaluations with our physical therapist, who takes the time to diagnose and compose an individualized strength training program to treat the problem. 

Call LSTC today, at 703-450-4300, to schedule your evaluation and begin living pain free again!

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