If you’ve been experiencing nagging pain around the outside of your knee, particularly if you participate in activities that involve repetitive motions (such as running), your lateral knee pain may be a sign of Iliotibial (IT) Band Syndrome. Fortunately, there is help available.

The first step in treating your lateral knee pain is to understand the issue.

What Is the Iliotibial (IT) Band?

The IT band is a thick band of fascia/connective tissue that is affixed at the top of your pelvis, runs down the outside (lateral) part of the leg, and connects to the outside portion of the tibia (shin bone). A fluid-filled sac called a bursa helps the IT band glide smoothly over your patella as you bend and straighten your leg.

What Is the Function of the IT Band?

The IT band, along with the quads, assists in stabilizing the hip during movements such as hip flexion, extension, abduction, internal and external rotation.

Though we rarely give this part of our bodies much thought, the IT band is integral to our ability to move freely. Only when things begin to go wrong and we experience pain do we realize how pivotal our IT band really is and how badly we need it to be functioning well.

Lateral Knee Pain and IT Band Syndrome

Common among runners, cyclists, and frequent walkers, IT Band Syndrome is an “overuse injury” that develops when repetitive movements of the hip and knee cause irritation and inflammation, primarily near the attachment site on the shin where the band attaches. Constant flexing and extending of the hip and knee causes the band to change length and develop new tensions, which could lead to increased stressors, particularly around the meniscus.

Inflammation and irritation of the iliotibial band can occur as it travels back and forth, crossing the bony prominence of the femoral epicondyle as the knee flexes and extends. (Medicine Net)

When someone is suffering from IT Band Syndrome, they will likely feel the most pain around the outside of their knee as their heel strikes the ground.

Runners carry an especially high risk for IT Band Syndrome, particularly ones who:

  • Run in old shoes
  • Train on uneven terrain
  • Accumulate high mileage
  • Deal with elevation changes
  • Run in cold weather

If you recognize yourself in that list, it’s especially important that you are proactive about caring for your knees.

Preventing and Treating Lateral Knee Pain

Because lateral knee pain develops so often in runners, it is now common for local gyms and walking tracks to alternate the direction of walking on a daily basis such as clockwise vs. counterclockwise to reduce the strain applied to the left and right leg. Adding specific stretches to your warm-ups and cool-downs can also help heal and/or prevent IT Band Syndrome by increasing flexibility and strengthening the muscles around the knee.

IT Band Syndrome can be serious if left untreated, and while self-care and rest are important, if your symptoms do not go away, it’s vital that you work with professionals to ensure that your body is on the road to healing.

When it comes to seeking professional treatment for lateral knee pain, a variety of modalities may prove effective.

  • Cryotherapy (ice) and electrical stimulation can increase blood flow and lead to reduce tension, inflammation, and tightness.
  • Over-the-counter medication such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatories can help manage symptoms and speed healing.
  • Physical therapy often proves beneficial. Professional guidance on stretching, strengthening, and reducing inflammation goes a long way.

If you’re ready to discover what’s causing your lateral knee pain and seek effective treatment, we’re here to help.

Help Is Available

Contact Cawley Physical Therapy and Rehab at 570-208-2787.

We look forward to serving you!