Given all you ask of your knees, it’s unsurprising that they suffer a few aches and pains now and then. It’s not even surprising that knee injuries are among the most common sports injuries, and knee osteoarthritis affects upwards of 654 million people worldwide.
But arthritis and sprains aren’t the only culprits behind knee pain. One of the lesser-known injuries — iliotibial band syndrome (ITBS) — can sideline you until it heals, so it’s important to learn what causes it and how to recover from it.
In this blog, NEIL GHODADRA, M.D., our renowned board-certified orthopedic surgeon, explains what you need to know about an ITBS diagnosis.
What you need to know about ITBS
Even if you’ve never heard of it, ITBS is a fairly common injury. We see it most often in runners, cyclists, and military personnel, but it can affect anyone.
Your iliotibial band is a thick strip of connective tissue that runs from your hip to your shin on the outside of your thigh. When this band becomes tight or inflamed — the definition of ITBS — it can lead to pain and tenderness, particularly on the outer part of your knee.
Why did I get ITBS?
You most likely developed ITBS by overusing your knee — specifically, repeatedly flexing and extending the joint.
These repetitive movements can cause your IT band to rub against a bony structure in your knee, leading to friction, irritation, and inflammation. Poor flexibility, inadequate warm-up before exercise, weak hip and core muscles, and running on uneven surfaces can intensify the situation, contributing to and worsening the problem.
How we diagnose ITBS
Dr. Ghodadra diagnoses ITBS based on your symptoms and a physical examination. He asks about your exercise habits and typically orders imaging tests like an MRI or ultrasound to rule out other conditions that could be causing your knee pain.
Treatment options for ITBS
The good news is we can successfully treat most cases of ITBS with conservative, non-surgical measures, such as:
Rest and ice
Taking a break from activities that cause pain and applying ice to your knee reduces inflammation.
Dr. Ghodadra may recommend physical therapy to stretch and strengthen your IT band and the supporting muscles, thereby helping to improve your flexibility and balance.
Pain relievers and anti-inflammatories
Over-the-counter medications help ease IT band pain and inflammation.
If you have severe ITBS symptoms that don’t respond to front-line conservative measures, Dr. Ghodadra might suggest a corticosteroid injection to reduce inflammation. In rare cases where conservative treatments don't help, he might recommend surgery.
Tips for alleviating pain and promoting rehabilitation
In addition to the above treatments, here are a few tips to help manage your symptoms and speed up your recovery process:
Warm up properly
Always take time to warm up before starting any physical activity to prepare your muscles and joints for the exercise ahead.
Incorporate stretching into your daily routine to improve your flexibility and help reduce tension on your IT band.
Strengthen your hips and core
Strong hips and core take pressure off your IT band. Pilates, yoga, and specific strength training exercises can all help.
Wear appropriate footwear
Shoes that support your arch and correct any imbalance could help you prevent ITBS.
Avoid uneven terrain
When you run, walk, or train, do it on smooth surfaces. Bumpy, uneven terrain places excess stress on your IT band.
Remember, it's important to listen to your body. If something doesn’t feel right, don’t push through the pain. If you have outer knee pain that doesn’t resolve with rest, ice, and OTC anti-inflammatory medication, call NEIL GHODADRA, M.D., in West Los Angeles, California, today.