IT band pain and how to fix it

At least once a week I receive an email from a reader asking for advice about IT band pain. The iliotibial (IT) band is a group of muscle fibers that runs along the outside of the thigh, from the hip to the knee. The IT band functions as a stabilizer during running and is one of the most common overuse injuries. The pain generally presents itself on the outside of the knee, but hip pain can be a symptom as well.

If you’re currently experiencing pain –  I know how frustrating it is! My injury started off in my hamstring and then migrated to my IT band and knees. I truly believe that muscles and ligaments all work together and if one gets out of whack, everything can start to hurt! Luckily, after almost a year of trying nearly everything in the book, I can honestly say that the pain in my right hamstring and IT band is GONE. Woo-hoo! I’m having a little left side back/butt pain at the moment, but that’s a whole other story… I guess running isn’t running without the occasional ache and pain!

I’m not a doctor or a phsyical therapist, but I do have some tips on re-habbing your IT band.

1) Reduce your mileage and/or take time off from running. Eventhough I only ran once a week throughout the summer, things still weren’t getting much better. Finally, in August I got an ear infection (blessing in disguise?) and had to take nearly 2 weeks off of running/exercise. I think the absolute rest really helped! And it’s worth noting – if your shoes have more than 400 miles on them, get some new ones! Worn out running shoes definitely aren’t going to make things better.

2) If the pain is mild and you still want to run - avoid hills, apply ice (10-15 minutes at a time), and take ibuprofen afterward.Taking anti-inflammatories before exercise can mask pain and cause you to push yourself past safe limits. Plus it can cause stomach upset!

If you’re going to ice in the dead of winter – I advise pairing that cold pack with a cup of tea and a cozy bed :-)

Ice packs and tea

3) Stretch, strengthen, stretch! Runner’s World has some great articles on IT band syndrome – check them out here and here.

And now for my own stretching/strengthening demonstrations!

The foam roller: Place the outside of your affected leg face-down on the foam roller and use your body weight to roll back and forth over the tight muscle fiber. Roll back and forth for about 20-30 seconds at a time, rest, and repeat. If you’re new to foam rolling – this will probably hurt a bit! The foam acts as a mini massage, loosening up the muscle and un-kinking the knots. Make sure you are pressing hard enough – you want to get deep into the muscle tissue.

foam roller

Basic IT band stretch: Stand up straight and cross your “good leg” (i.e. the side that isn’t bothering you) over the other leg. Using the wall for support, jut out the hip on your “bad” leg until you feel a stretch running from your hip to your knee. You can remain standing up right or lean over. It takes a little trial and error before you hit that stretching sweet spot.

IT band stretch

The hip flexor/butt stretch: Eventhough I feel this stretch mostly in my hips, I think it still loosens up the IT band a bit. Bend your knees slightly, pick up your bum leg and place the heel of that leg on the knee of the other leg. Continue to squat down until you feel a stretch through the butt, hip, and knee. You can also do a variation of this while sitting at your desk chair!

Butt/hip stretch

3) Wear an IT band strap and KT Tape to stabilize the IT band and limit friction between the muscles and bones. You can purchase these from most running shops.

4) Even when I wasn’t running, I would often have pain and stiffness. Sitting at my desk all day really aggravated my IT band/hamstring/knee. Now I sit on a tennis ball or baseball and massage out the muscles – it seems to help! If you’re on the go a lot (travelling, etc) – check out the stick. It’s great for giving yourself a mini massage when you don’t have access to a foam roller.

The stick

Finally, I know that cross-training doesn’t quite compare to running, but high intensity cycling or elliptical workouts can help you stay in good cardiovascular shape while avoiding the pounding that occurs on the roads. And don’t forget about yoga! Stretching and strengthening the whole body can do a lot for muscle imbalances.

Been there, done that and still having IT band issues? Find out more about alternative sports medicine treatment.

Good luck and happy running!

  • http://savvyeat.com Julie @savvyeats

    Foam roller = love. For real. :)

  • http://www.feerlessfood.wordpress.com Chuck

    Hey! I love the site and recipes–I can’t wait to pumpkin macaroni and cheese! Just wanted to comment on this post. I’ve never (or at least that I am aware of) hurt my IT band, but I have had a lot of friends who have. I love the foam roller and can’t say enough about how much its help protect the IT band, as well as speed recovery from workouts. After a triathlon or race, my first stop (after refueling) is the gym where I spend some a long time rolling around on the foam roller.

  • http://sideofsneakers.wordpress.com rungirlrunn

    Great info!! Foam rolling is magical :)

  • http://frontyardfoodie.com Diana @ frontyardfoodie

    I’ve been experiencing some hip pain lately when I ran more than usual one week. I took a week off and then only ran 10 miles the next week and it’s still sore but not as bad. I hope it’s not IT band!

  • http://runnerwifelife.wordpress.com katherine

    A: I love the Magic Stick!!

    B: Nice Ted Corbett shirt ;-)

  • http://fookaDESIGNS.blogspot.com fookaDESIGNS

    Do you happen to have hints for dealing with shin splints? I’ve dealt with them for 15 years and unfortunately it caused me to stop running. But I’ve recently (largely thanks to your inspirational blog -thanks!) have started training for a 5k. But still dealing with shin splints! Any tips would be great. Love your blog!

  • http://www.thehealthyeverythingtarian.com Holly

    thanks for those stretches…once in awhile my IT does act up, and it frustrates me.

    have a great day lady :)

  • http://www.gethealthywithheather.wordpress.com/ Heather @ Get Healthy With Heather

    Thanks for the great tips. The hip flex/butt stretch is one of my favorites, it really does the job!

    I’m gunna have to forward this on to my mom, she was having knee/hip pains for a while running until she got new running shoes. The pains can be sneaky about coming back though.

  • http://cward151.wordpress.com Chelsea @ (Chelsea’s Chew and Run Fun)

    Thank you for the fabulous tutorial! I also appreciate the step-by-step on how to use the foam roller, I’ve been intimated by that accessory for some time. Your explanation of how to work it removed the fear factor!

  • http://louisianagrown.wordpress.com Lauren

    You look so excited doing your stretches! ;-) Just picckinnng. Thanks for the info!

  • http://laurageorgina.wordpress.com/ Laura Georgina

    Thanks for the tips! I just gave myself a foam roller for Christmas and I am a feverish convert. My family thought it was hilarious to watch me foam roll, but I don’t care–that thing is a miracle worker and I plan to never be without one again!

  • http://eating-for-england.blogspot.com/ Angharad

    Great post Megan! I think I would really benefit from a foam roller…love all your running posts! Crossing fingers and toes your butt pain goes away!

  • Sara

    What a great and helpful post! I’ve never tried the “basic IT band stretch” so I guess I should keep it in mind for the future (fingers crossed, I won’t need to)!

    Have you tried this one? I love it: http://sportsmedicine.about.com/od/flexibilityandstretching/qt/IT-Stretch-B.htm

    Great to hear you’ve recovered, and way to rep the Ted Corbitt!

  • http://www.thestick.ca Ken

    Great post. I can tell you are very passionate about your site and running. Your information is fantastic.

  • http://www.bandstshirts.net bands t shirts

    Hi there ! Thank for posting.

  • Pingback: Yucky Yogurt and IT Band Issues « Eat, Read, Run

  • http://atalantasapples.wordpress.com Atalanta

    Ahh, thanks so much for all this information! Just recently started having IT band pain for the first time — ugh! But at least there’s a set plan of rehab for it, unlike so many other injuries… thanks again! :)

  • Pingback: Just Me and My Foam Roller | runningtowardtheprize

  • runner1234

    you could always try getting some arches for your shoes

  • Kim

    Thank you for this information. I have been struggling with this since November and will probably have to sell my bib for May Marathon which makes me sad. Hopefully I can get well enough to train for one in the fall. 

  • Ann / sistersontherun.com

    Thank you for this info!  I’ve just started having IT band pain in the last 2 weeks.  I’m so bummed!!  I rested last week….no running and tried yesterday and P*A*I*N!!  So I’m thinking more time off is needed.  I will definitely try an IT band strap when I try to run in a few weeks!  I’m thinking that my May marathon will not be happening and hope to run one in the fall  :(   IT’s good to know that healing will come…..eventually!

  • Mairedhannah

    Thanks I hope this works I’ve been having awfull Pain for a month now and our cross country season just started and I have to keep running on this! I hope this helps my excruciating pain!!

  • Coyle

    I appreciate the information and the clarity of your illustrations you presented. I am an athlete and have never experience this type of injury before…I now have good direction to a remedy and you have save me a ton of $$$ in physical therapy cost…Thank you, CJ II

  • Lindsey

    How did you sit on tennis balls? How long did your pain last? Do you ever experience IT Band problems ??