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Iliotibial band (or ITB) friction syndrome is a condition caused by over-use and primarily affects long distance runners. The iliotibial band is a thick band of tissue that runs down the outside of your thighs, from your buttocks to your tibia (shin bone). It is used to help you straighten your knee, and also for moving your hip out sideways. ITBFS occurs when there is repeated friction between your iliotibial band and the lateral femoral epicondyle - the prominence of bone at the lower end of your thigh.
One of the main symptoms of IT band syndrome is sore knees. This pain can often be relieved by wearing a knee support. ITBFS is a particular risk for runners, especially if you run downhill frequently. You are more likely to suffer from ITBFS if you are not particularly flexible, you have poor core stability, or your gait is inefficient. You can prevent ITBFS by strengthening the muscles around your pelvis, wearing good quality running shoes, and stretching your legs. Note that the stretching lengthens the muscles in your calves, quads and hips, not the ITB itself. Some people do refer to the exercises as "stretching your ITB" but this is a misnomer.
Some people try to compensate for their knee pain by adjusting their gait or shortening their steps. This can make things worse in the long run. ITBS usually causes pain on the outside of the knee, and this pain starts out as a dull ache that is present only during exercise. However, if you keep on performing the exercises that cause the pain, then it can get worse and last for longer. Severe cases of ITBS can cause pain when you are simply walking or trying to climb stairs.
The best way to manage ITBFS is through rest and stretching, and wearing a support while you are exercising. If you find that this does not help your pain, you should seek medical advice. A physiotherapist or doctor will be able to give you better guidance. Some people find that using foam rollers can help with their ITBS, but not all doctors agree with this form of treatment. Foam roller treatments can offer short term relief of ITBFS, but it is not a good long-term solution because it can cause damage to the soft tissues. Repeated compression of the small bursa and surrounding fat pads could actually do more harm than good in the long term.
Do not ignore knee pain, tight quads or any other discomfort that occurs when exercising. If wearing a knee support does not alleviate your pain, speak to a doctor immediately and stop the activity that is causing the pain. Most people can manage their ITBFS and make a full recovery which allows them to go back to their chosen sport. However, treating this knee pain is not something that you should try to do alone. Professional advice from a coach, physiotherapist or doctor will ensure a speedier recovery.