IT band exercises are an effective way to ease the sharp pain associated with this common overuse injury. Often, the injury results from an imbalance in the lower leg muscles that leads to poor movement patterns and is most common with cyclists and distance runners. Having a home exercise program that focuses on restoring strength, balance and coordination can help significantly. Keep reading to learn more about exercises for illiotibial band syndrome.
Strength exercises for addressing IT band syndrome focus on hip strength (aka the glutes) and pelvis stability. If you are having trouble tolerating any of these exercises, make sure to modify.
This exercise is great for restoring balance to the hip muscles. Lie on your side and make sure you keep the hips stacked. Do not let the hips roll back or wobble too much and don’t forget to tighten your abs. Have both your knees and hips bent between 45-90 degrees with your legs touching. Then, lift the upper knee up toward the ceiling as far as you can with good form while keeping the feet together. Keep the move slow and controlled.
10-15 repetitions for 2-3 sets. Stop if you can’t maintain proper form.
Lie on your side again with the top leg straight this time (bottom leg bent for stability). Keep the leg straight and kneecap/toes pointing straight forward- NOT up toward the ceiling. Lift the leg upwards as high as is comfortable. You should feel this in the side of the hips without sharp pain.
10-15 repetitions for 2-3 sets on each leg. Focus on activating the correct muscles.
Stand comfortably in good posture for this one. Then, shift your weight to your “good” leg so that you can lift the opposite foot off the ground as you hike your hip. This subtle movement helps you learn to control the level of your pelvis but can be tough to coordinate at first. You shouldn’t be leaning to the side as you lift your leg. Rather, focus on bringing the top of the hip straight up toward your rib cage. Alternatively, you can stand on a step with the leg you will be hiking free to move to give you a little more range to work with.
10+ repetitions for 2-3 sets on each leg.
Grab a loop resistance band and put it around your legs about mid-shin. Stand with good posture and abs tight. Then, kick one leg out to the side with control before returning it to the ground and repeating on the other side. The key is to keep the pelvis level (no leaning or wobbling) throughout the move and keeping the toes pointing forward throughout (not outward). Start without a band if necessary or grab a mirror so you can see what your pelvis is doing as you move.
Repeat for 15+ repetitions on each side for 2-3 sets.
Start on the floor or grab a balance pad to make this exercise more challenging. Simply shift your leg away from one leg and lift the opposite foot off the ground. While balancing, focus on keeping good form. This means keeping the pelvis aligned by avoiding any leaning or wobbling.
Hold for 30+ seconds for 2-3 sets on each leg.
The primary issues that lead to iliotibial band syndrome are poor movement patterns that cause lower body misalignment. Common alignment and movement problems include excessive hip internal rotation or valgus at the knee joint. This is often easy to spot with daily movements when the knee is regularly near the center of the body or movements feel uncoordinated or wobbly secondary to a lot of movement in the pelvis itself. These issues are only exacerbated when trying to complete higher-level activities like running or cycling.
Physical therapy is a great way to understand what specific issues you are facing. One simple way that a physical therapist can start addressing any problems is by helping you recognize where your alignment issues are and providing cues and feedback on how to start gradually changing them.
The two higher-level exercises discussed above, single-leg stance and lateral leg kicks, are both great options for optimizing lower body coordination, strength, and flexibility. Grabbing a mirror or asking for feedback from a trained professional like a physical therapist can help you tune into any little nuances that you can address to reduce strain on the IT band. This will help prevent long term issues down the road like hip and knee pain.
The foam roller is a common treatment tool used for the IT band and other common problem areas like the quads and hamstrings. It has a bad reputation because of how uncomfortable it can be. Yet, there are many benefits and techniques for helping restore better tissue health in your leg and IT band.
For more details, see our full article about foam rolling the IT band.
Both professional massage and self-administered massage can also be extremely helpful in decreasing and preventing pain in the IT band in problem areas like the outside of the knee and hip. Regular massage can help promote good tissue flexibility and blood flow to keep the area as healthy as possible.
There are common misalignments that can occur in the hip and knee joint with everyday movement that overstretch the IT band, or iliotibial band, and cause strain. This puts excessive strain on the surrounding connective tissue and can lead to a lot of painful friction on bony landmarks, particularly near the knee and hip joints. An exercise program that addresses lower body strength while keeping good form helps minimize the strain to the IT band and other sensitive tissues.
There are many great benefits to having a consistent lower body home exercise program. These include:
Experiencing IT band pain can be extremely frustrating. Luckily, with a good treatment program that includes stretching, exercise, and pain relief remedies, you can start on the road to recovery. Healing from an IT band injury will take patience as you learn to move with better form and allow the area to properly recover. If you experience a sudden change in symptoms or the pain is affecting your ability to do normal daily activities, please get in touch with your doctor to discuss other treatment options or rule out other potential issues you may be experiencing.
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