What is it?
The iliotibial band (“IT band”) is a thick band of fascia (a kind of hard flesh) that extends down the outside of the upper thigh. It begins on the pelvis, crosses the hip and knee, and attaches just below the knee. Pain is a result of friction or rubbing of the iliotibial band against the bone on the outside of the knee, which results in irritation of the band. It is one of the most common knee injuries (second only to patellofemoral pain syndrome) and has been reported in as many as 12 percent of runners. Athletes involved in cycling, weightlifting, football, soccer and tennis may also experience pain from the IT band.
- Pain on the outer part of the knee with sporting activities
- Popping or rubbing sensation on the outer knee
- Pain after sitting for long periods of time with the knee bent
- Pain typically worsening with activities
Sports Medicine Evaluation and Treatment
A sports medicine physician will ask an athlete questions about potential risk factors for ITBS, including running mileage, change in mileage, uphill and downhill running routines, and track workouts. Running the same direction around a track for a long time may worsen ITBS symptoms. A sports medicine physician will perform a thorough physical exam of the athlete’s knee and leg. The provider may look at muscle imbalances, flexibility, leg length, hip and knee alignment, running gait, foot arches and footwear.
For ITBS, imaging is not usually necessary, unless the physician suspects that other causes within the knee may be causing the pain. Treatment of ITBS includes rest, ice and anti-inflammatory medications. Athletes may also have to alter training routines during the recovery period to avoid activities that cause pain. Stretching is an important component to the treatment of ITBS, as well as identifying and correcting strength imbalances. Other treatment options include steroid injections, foot orthotics and very rarely, surgical referral.
Athletes should maintain appropriate flexibility and strength, and ensure a proper warm-up prior to activity.
Return to Play
Athletes may expect to return to activity once the symptoms have improved. Cross training is often a useful tool to use to aid in recovery. Once symptoms are improved, the athlete can gradually return to activity, generally over a period of about four to six weeks.
Authors: AMSSM Members Raul Raudales, MD, and David Berkoff, MD