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Exercises You Should Avoid with IT Band Pain

by Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT October 12, 2020 0 Comments

Exercise using resistance bands

Knowing what IT band syndrome exercises to avoid is just as important as finding the right stretches or exercises. The wrong ones can be ineffective or further harm this tough band of connective tissue on the side of your thigh. The road to recovery from knee pain is about finding a balance between rest, exercise, and other treatment options. Read on to learn how to choose the best exercises for this common injury.

The Risk of Improper Exercise

All of the tissues in our body are designed to sustain a certain level of stress. When this stress is too little from inactivity or too much from overexertion or overstretching it can lead to injury and pain. IT band syndrome, or ITB syndrome, is a common overuse injury that can be prevented or managed by understanding it’s common triggers. While exercise is an important part of a healthy lifestyle, too much of it or exercising with improper form can lead to problems in the long term. 

Exercises to Avoid

While there are never any absolutes for what exercises need to be avoided, there are certain moves that tend to be aggravating and can result in injury of the IT band. We will dive into a few of the more aggravating ones now. 

Running or Cycling

Running and cycling are common triggers for developing IT band syndrome due to the repetitive nature of both sports. This is particularly true with long distance runners and cyclers who cover high miles consistently throughout the year. While there are plenty of athletes that continue training when they experience IT band pain, it can lead to bigger problems in the future and delay healing time.

Running, Walking, and Cycling Safely

Here are some factors to keep in mind that may promote healing without having to take a complete rest break:

  • Decreasing frequency, mileage, or intensity until symptoms improve.
  • Adjusting form and biomechanics to decrease strain on the kneecap and surrounding tissues like the quad, hamstring, glutes, and hip muscles
  • Changing your environment to decrease strain on the knee joint- such as adjusting your bike or running on softer surfaces.
  • Try some cross-training to change the way your muscles are being used while still maintaining your fitness level and strength- such as swimming or walking. 
  • Choose quality running shoes

Squats or Lunges

Squats and lunges are notoriously hard to complete with an IT band injury. Typically, when the knee is flexed (bent) between approximately 30 and 90 degrees, it is very painful on the outside of the knee where the IT band attaches.

While neither of these options are completely off the table for your workouts, you may consider modifying or taking a rest break from them depending on how severe your symptoms are. It’s always best to start with a small range of motion that is relatively pain-free and then build from there.

Improper Foam Rolling

Foam rolling can be ineffective when not properly utilized. Especially for the IT Band. This tissue is a very dense strip of tissue that requires a significant amount of pressure to manipulate, which a foam roller may not be able to provide. If the area is still sore from injury it can make foam rolling exercises painful.

A foam roller is a great tool for addressing tender spots within muscle and connective tissue if you can tolerate it. The IT band itself may be hard to manipulate, but using the foam roller as an adjunct with other treatment options can give you the edge to recovery. Plus, if you’re not getting the relief you want from IT band rolling you can focus on the surrounding muscles that do respond better to foam rolling such as the hamstrings, gluteal muscles, and quads.

Learn more about proper foam rolling the IT band in our complete guide.

Complete Rest

While rest isn’t an exercise, it is worth mentioning that taking complete rest for a long period of time is typically not good for IT band syndrome. Unless symptoms are so severe that they limit your normal life, it is better to scale back as much as you need to and continue some form of movement. Regular movement, particularly focused on rehabbing the IT band, is essential for promoting circulation and healing.

IT band pain is considered a “self-limiting” pain syndrome. This means that as long as you tune into your symptoms you can continue to exercise at a level that is comfortable for you. Then, gradually build your exercise program back up when you’re ready.

Tips for Safe Exercising

How long you need to rest and recovery before returning to previously aggravating exercises will be different for everyone. Here are some tips to keep in mind to ensure you are maximizing your exercise routine:

  • Use your symptoms as a gauge for how much rest you need before returning to your normal exercise routine
  • Incorporate pain relief strategies into your routine to promote healing and reduce inflammation- these might include anti-inflammatory medication, ice, massage, and more. 
  • Make sure to incorporate regular warm-up and stretching into your routine to reduce stiffness in the IT band. 
  • Consider working with a physical therapist to ensure that you are moving with good alignment and form when completing hip strengthening exercises. 

Taking the Right Precautions with IT Band Pain

Understanding what aggravated your IT band knee pain is a first big step toward healing this common injury. With this knowledge, you can move forward with other treatment options with confidence. Having the right combination of pain relief strategies, movement, stretching, and self-massage will help you get back to normal life sooner. If you experience severe or sharp pain that is affecting your quality of life, always get in touch with a doctor of physical therapist as soon as possible.





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Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT
Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT

JayDee Vykoukal is a Doctor of Physical Therapy, owner of the healthy habit platform Health Means Wealth, and freelance medical writer. She loves traveling and spending time with her family in nature. Her passion is helping others continue to participate in the activities they love through education and proper exercise.

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