Safety / Injuries
Exercises for IT Band Syndrome
The Best IT Band Exercises for Preventing, Correcting, and Managing Injury
Not all of your clients know what the iliotibial band (IT band) is, but they’ll quickly find out if they end up with an IT band injury. This important piece of connective tissue runs down the side of each leg and can cause knee pain. Further, repetitive movement when muscle imbalances are present can result in an overuse injury.
Work with all of your clients to strengthen the hip and glute muscles that help prevent injuries (including IT band syndrome). Specifically, cyclists and runners can benefit from IT band exercises.
What is an IT Band?
The IT band, or iliotibial band, runs from the hip to the knee on the outside of each leg. Rather than a muscle, it is fascia. This means it has lower blood supply, can’t be strengthened, and doesn’t have the same elastic properties as muscle. The best way to prevent problems in this area, including the knee and hip, is to perform strength and flexibility exercises on the muscles around the joints it affects- the hip and knee.
IT band syndrome is pretty common. It occurs when there is instability around the knee joint and results in sharp pain on the outside of the knee. Many runners know what this feels like, but ITB syndrome is also common in cyclists and other athletes.
The outer knee pain of ITB syndrome is often sharp when you first start an activity and then lessens as the muscles all get warmed up.
However, with time and without doing anything to correct it that pain will get worse and will persist until a workout becomes impossible.
The causes of IT band syndrome are general overuse, but only because of specific muscle weaknesses. When the gluteal muscles and muscles around the hip are too weak, they cause the IT band to pull the knee out of alignment, hence the pain and injury.
Preventing IT Band Injury
Because weak muscles and overuse cause ITB syndrome, there are two ways to prevent or manage this injury:
- Strengthening muscles of the hip
No athlete wants to rest, and if your client does enough work to build strength in the muscles connected to the IT band, one shouldn’t have to. However, when injury and pain are severe, you may need to make your client sit out some workouts for a while as you work on strength.
The Best IT Band Exercises to Strengthen Hip and Gluteal Muscles
Strengthening these muscles is the key to both preventing IT band syndrome and correcting it. If your client is already struggling with pain from this injury they may need to back off the exercise that is causing it, like running, but in the meantime work on the right strength exercises. And if the client hasn’t experienced any IT-related pain, add in these exercises to make sure they won’t.
Lie on your side with knees bent at a right angle. Lift the top knee up while keeping the feet together. It will look like your legs are opening like a clamshell. This is a small, specific movement that targets the glute. You can also add a resistance band around the knees for more tension. Repeat on the other side.
Lie on your back with your knees up as if you were going to start doing crunches. With or without a resistance band around the legs just over the knees, lift the hips up and squeeze the glutes.
The Single-Leg Squat
Perform regular squats but on just one leg. Extend the other leg forward during the squat and repeat on the other side. Good form is important with squats to avoid putting pressure on the knees. The hips and butt should go back and the knees should not extend over the toes. Keep the chest and head upright.
The Lateral Band Walk
Use a resistance band around the ankles for this exercise. With good tension and knees slightly bent, take several steps to one side and then back the other way. You can also do a variation of this exercise with the band around the thighs and with the knees bent a little bit more. Steps will be bigger in this variation.
What About Foam Rolling?
People often mistakenly think they should foam roll the IT band. This activity doesn’t worsen negative symptoms, but it does little to improve it. Keep in mind, fascia doesn’t have the same elastic properties as muscle tissue so it won’t respond as readily. Instead, you can have your client benefit from foam roll activities on the piriformis or adductors. These muscles affect the hip and tend to get overactive and tight, further pulling hip alignment in a less than ideal way. After the client completes the self-myofascial release, you can have them also stretch the same areas to further improve proper range of motion.
Teach all your clients who are very active in one particular sport, like running, to roll correctly.
ITB syndrome can become serious, and athletes who ignore the pain and push through it will soon regret it. Educate your clients, help them learn the right strengthening exercises, and insist that they rest if necessary. Learn more about this type of training with the Corrective Exercise Specialist program.
Click HERE to download this handout and share with your clients!