IT bands…so tight right now.

With all the spin classes, fituals and Orange Theory workouts I’ve been doing lately, my legs have been feeling pretty tight. I thought I’d touch on another common pathology called Iliotibial Band Syndrome.

First, I want to explain what the IT band is for those people out there who have never taken an anatomy class. The IT band is a (surprise, surprise) band-like structure that runs along the outside of the leg from the pelvis to the lower leg in the region of the knee. Pain typically occurs at the portion of the IT band runs along the outside of the knee. Activities most commonly associated with IT Band Syndrome are running and cycling.

Intrinsic factors that have been shown to put people at risk for IT Band Syndrome include:

  • weak hip abductor muscles (aka your glutes)
  • knock knees or the opposite, bow legs
  • a type of malalignment of the ankle known as supination
  • muscle contracture of one of the hip flexors (the iliopsoas)
  • calf tightness/inflexibility
  • leg length discrepancy

Extrinsic factors include the following:

  • sudden increase in running mileage or high overall running mileage (even if the norm for that person)
  • long strides
  • prolonged running in the same direction on a track
  • cycling with an improperly set up bike (height/pedals)
  • increase in cycling mileage or hills
  • exercising in cold weather

Diagnosis is made by clinical examination and ruling out other pathologies.

Aside from a trial of rest and avoiding extrinsic factors that may be contributing to the problem, treatment is usually focused on strengthening the gluteal muscles, and addressing alignment either with orthotics, strengthening or stretching depending on the issue.

Here are some running specific suggestions:

  • avoid running downhill
  • try running on non-pavement surfaces
  • if feet are crossing the midline during running, try widening the running gait
  • try increasing the pace
  • try taking shorter strides/increasing the frequency and softening the landing

…and for cycling:

  • lower the seat
  • decrease the in-toeing on the pedal/cleats (even try a small out-toe)
  • widen the stance on the bike by increasing the distance from the crank to the foot
  • correct any leg-length discrepancies

I’ve included some pictures of some good stretches to try at home. Don’t forget to strengthen that booty!


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