Iliotibial band syndrome (ITBS) is an overuse injury. It happens in the soft tissues in the lower thigh, near the outside of the knee. The iliotibial band (ITB) is a thick band of fibrous tissue. It runs from the hip down the outside of the thigh and attaches to the tibia. The tibia is the large bone of the lower leg.
Treatment depends on the severity of the injury.
Tendons of the Lateral Knee
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ITBS is caused by repetitive friction or rubbing of the iliotibial band against the bone on the outer side of the knee. This excessive rubbing can irritate the ITB itself and/or the tissue underneath.
Causes of the excessive friction include: Structural abnormalities, such as a short, tight IT bandProblems related to the foot, ankle, or hipOpposing muscle imbalances, such as the quadriceps stronger than hamstringsA very prominent lateral femoral epicondyle, the bony structure on the outer side of the kneeInward rotation of the legAngle where knee flexesLegs of different lengthsBowlegs
Factors that increase your risk of getting ITBS include: Certain sports with repetitive motions, such as running and cyclingIncorrect training techniqueIncreasing distance run or cycling too quicklyRunning up and down hillsOvertrainingUsing damaged or worn out equipment or footwearWearing improper shoes for a sport or athletic activityAthletic equipment that is not properly fit to the user, such as a bicycle
Symptoms of ITBS include: Dull aching or burning sensation on the outside of the knee during or after activitySharp stabbing pain on the outside of the knee during or after activityPain that shows up in the hip, known as referred painProgressive, worsening painSnapping, creaking, or popping when the knee is bent and then straightened
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. In most cases, diagnosis can be made with a physical exam.
Tests may include: Obers test—determines the tightness of the ITBRennes test—specifies the area of pain while full weight is placed on the bent legNobles test—determines the area of pain while the leg is flexed at a certain angle
For images of the internal structure of your leg, your doctor may recommend an
Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Recovery time ranges depending on the grade of your injury. Treatment steps may include:
will need time to heal. Avoid activities that place extra stress on the knee:
Do not do activities that cause pain. This includes running, jumping, and weight lifting using the leg muscles.If normal walking hurts, shorten your stride.Do not play sports until your doctor has said it is safe to do so.
Your doctor may recommend a foot orthotic to help control rototation of the foot. This will help stabilize the knee.
Apply an ice or a cold pack to the area for 15-20 minutes, four times a day, for several days after the injury. Do not apply the ice directly to your skin. Wrap the ice or cold pack in a towel.
To manage pain, your doctor may recommend:
Over-the-counter medication, such as
acetaminophenPrescription pain relieversCorticosteroid injections
Use heat only when you are returning to physical activity. Heat may then be used before stretching or getting ready to play sports to help loosen the muscle.
When the acute pain is gone, start gentle stretching as recommended. Stay within pain limits. Hold each stretch for about 10 seconds and repeat six times. Stretch several times a day.
Begin strengthening exercises for your muscles as recommended.
Surgery may be necessary in cases when there is no response to other forms of treatment.
To reduce your chances of ITBS, take these steps: Learning proper training techniquesIncreasing mileage run graduallyWearing appropriate shoes for each sportReplacing athletic shoes as they show signs of wearBeing aware of running surfacesUsing properly fitted equipmentStrengthening quadriceps, hamstrings, and gluteal muscles
Baker RL, Souza RB, et al. Iliotibial band syndrome: soft tissue and
biomechanical factors in evaluation and treatment.
Fredericson M, Wolf C. Iliotibial band syndrome in runners: innovations in treatment.
Strauss EJ, et al. Iliotibial band syndrome: evaluation and management.
J Am Acad Orthop Surg
. 2011 Dec;19(12):728-36.
Last reviewed May 2013 by John C. Keel, MD; Brian Randall, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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