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IT band syndrome is a painful condition due to the overuse of this thick band of fascia—the iliotibial (IT) band—that runs from your glutes down to your shin bone. The pain is typically described as achy and continuous, and can interfere with everyday movement and exercise training. Knowing how to stretch your IT band properly may help. Keep reading for a physical therapist and an orthopaedic sports medicine surgeon's advice for managing IT band syndrome.
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The Causes of IT Band Syndrome
IT band syndrome is often due to overuse. “Usually running, cycling, hiking, or walking for a prolonged period can cause this, especially when walking incorrectly, such as with your hip internally rotated or ankle facing inwards. When the ITB becomes tight, it usually causes friction towards the knee when you bend it, which can lead to swelling and pain,” says Sandra Gail Frayna, a physical therapist with Hudson PT.
Due to the IT band’s location along the side of your thigh and knee, it can be difficult to stretch it properly. “Persistent inflammation and tightness in the IT band can cause it to rub over areas of the knee and hip during repetitive motions. This can lead to a painful condition called bursitis.,” says Miho J. Tanaka, orthopaedic sports medicine surgeon at Harvard and director of the Women’s Sports Medicine Program.
How to Prevent IT Band Syndrome
If you suspect that your walking gait is causing problems, get assistance from a professional who can help you make corrections. Also, be sure to include proper rest days and cross-training in your exercise program to prevent overuse injuries.
Frayna suggests paying attention to the following to help prevent IT band syndrome:
- Don't over-train.
- Get enough rest between training.
- Wear proper footwear.
- Stretch before and after running, cycling, or hiking activities.
- Don’t sit, stand, kneel or squat for a prolonged period.
Don’t neglect the other muscles in the hip and leg. Stretching the entire hip, hamstring, and quadriceps is also essential to avoid tightness in the IT band. Additionally, you should perform strength and balance exercises alongside a stretching routine to prevent IT band syndrome. “Improving muscle strength and optimizing running gait through physical therapy can help reduce the muscles' stress during activities and decrease the risk of stiffness,” says Tanaka.
IT Band Stretches
Frayna recommends the following IT band stretches to help prevent IT band syndrome and relieve pain.
- Sitting with your legs out in front of you, bend your left knee, placing your left foot flat on the floor outside of your right knee.
- Reach your left fingertips behind you, about a foot, and push them gently into the floor while elongating your spine.
- Inhale and reach your right arm up, exhale, bending your right arm, and pressing your right elbow into your left knee, twisting to the left. Maintain your gaze over your left shoulder.
- Hold for a few slow, deep breaths. Inhale and untwist back to the starting position.
- Repeat on the other side.
Supine IT Band Stretch
- Lying on your back, stretch your arms straight out, like a T, at shoulder height, palms facing down.
- Bend your right leg and place your foot flat on the floor next to your left knee. Place your left hand over your right knee.
- Exhale while gently guiding your right knee toward the floor.
- Hold the stretch for a few deep, slow breaths before untwisting with an inhale.
- Change sides and repeat.
Cow Face Pose
- Sit on the ground with a tall spine. One knee crossed over the other.
- Either place your hands at your sides or reach your right arm up, bending your elbow with an inhale. Bend your left arm behind your back to clasp your right hand, if you can.
- Hold this pose for a few deep breaths.
- Release and change sides to repeat.
Cross Leg Forward Fold
- Stand on the ground and cross your right leg over your left, feet flat on the floor.
- Inhale, and on the exhale, fold forward, reaching toward your toes.
- Hold for a few breaths before standing.
- Uncross your legs, cross the other way, and repeat.
- Standing, cross your right leg over your left leg.
- Scoot your left foot further to the right and slightly behind you until your feet are about three feet apart.
- Your right leg should be hugging your left as you slowly squat your right leg, bending your left leg simultaneously. Stretch your arms out for balance if you need it.
- Hold for a few deep, slow breaths before uncrossing and coming to a standing position.
- Repeat on the other side.
- Begin in a downward-facing dog position. Exhale and bring your left knee through to the floor with your ankle behind your wrist.
- Lower your right knee to the floor behind you, and scoot your leg back so that your hips are on the floor. Use a blanket, block, or pillow under your bum if you need more support. Your back leg should extend straight out behind you.
- Lengthen your spine, resting your fingertips on the ground.
- Hold the pose for a few deep breaths.
- Tuck your toes under and push back into a downward-facing dog before switching sides to repeat.
Supine Knee to Shoulder Stretch
- Lay on your back with your legs out in front of you, heels on the floor.
- Bend your right knee and grab hold of it, pulling it in toward your chest.
- Slowly push your right knee toward your left shoulder, keeping your left leg relaxed.
- Hold for a few deep breaths before releasing to repeat on the other side.
Be wary of self-diagnosing and treating IT band syndrome. Pain along the outer thigh or knee is a common symptom of IT band syndrome, but other conditions can cause similar issues. “If your pain persists despite a good stretching regimen and some rest, you should be evaluated by your doctor. In particular, additional symptoms such as knee swelling, foot numbness, or pain that persists during rest should be checked out sooner,” says Tanaka.