Summer is the premiere season for outdoor activities such as running and cycling. While many people can achieve their exercise goals without injury, others may experience a myriad of sports injuries. In this post, we will discuss IT (iliotibial) Band Syndrome, a fairly common sports injury that can lead to lateral knee pain. We will begin by reviewing the anatomy of the knee area. Furthermore, we’ll discuss some of the symptoms of this condition. Then, we’ll outline how physical therapy treatment can safely help exercise enthusiasts return to their favorite outdoor activities.

Anatomy of the Knee

The knee is a complex joint requiring the support of a multitude of muscles, tendons, ligaments, and other tissues to properly function. Some of the key components that support the knee include a series of quadriceps muscles in the front of the thigh, the hamstring muscles in the back of the thigh, the patella (kneecap), and the lateral femoral condyle (lowermost, outside portion of the thigh bone). The iliotibial band is a connective tissue that provides supports to the knee area as well. The IT band extends from the outside of the hip area down to the knee, crossing both the hip and knee joints. Near the hip area, the IT band is associated with the gluteus medius and maximus muscles (the buttock muscles). It is also associated with the tensor fascia latae, a tiny muscle that provides support to the iliotibial band.

When these muscles are functioning well, they help provide proper support for the knee and the surrounding area. When one of these areas is weak, it can lay the groundwork for a case of IT Band Syndrome.

Symptoms of Knee Pain

If a person experiences pain anywhere on the outside of the thigh, they may be experiencing an issue with their IT band. Pain could be affected by running, walking, or even standing. This area could occur anywhere from the knee musculature, extending up the outside portion of the quadriceps muscle of the thigh region, and into the hip area. If left untreated, other issues can develop such as kneecap tendonitis, as well as quadriceps tendonitis. 

Causes of Knee Pain

It’s not uncommon for individuals to overestimate their ability to begin a running or cycling exercise program. Excessively increasing one’s daily and/or weekly mileage can lead to irritation of the IT band(s). Having weak hip abductor muscles can also lead to IT Band Syndrome and knee pain. If a person’s ankle rolls outward as their heel strikes the ground, this can also stress the IT band. Internal rotation of the tibia throughout the stance phase of a person’s gait can also increase the likelihood of developing IT Band Syndrome. Friction between the lateral femoral condyle and the IT band can also increase likelihood of IT Band Syndrome. 

Treatment

A physical therapist will evaluate why a person is experiencing IT Band Syndrome. Then, they’ll create a customized treatment plan for knee pain. A person’s treatment plan may include taping, soft tissue mobilization, and exercise modification to reduce pain levels. Stronger measures may include the correction of imbalances such as ankle supination and/or poor posture.

Depending upon where a patient’s weak areas reside, their knee pain treatment plan may include exercises designed to stretch and strengthen the buttock muscles, the quadriceps (thigh) muscles such as the rectus femoris and the vastus medialis obliques, the hamstrings, and the gastroc-soleus complex (calf muscle area).  

Just as important, a trained physical therapist can also make suggestions regarding the proper footwear and the correct form to practice while exercising to maximize the patient’s chances of preventing re-injury in the future. If you have been diagnosed with IT Band Syndrome, we can help! Please contact Cawley Physical Therapy and Rehab at 570-208-2787 to make an appointment today.