What is the iliotibial band friction syndrome?

The iliotibial band is a strong fibrous tendon that spans from the exterior of the pelvis down to the outer part of the thigh and all the way to the upper part of the shinbone. The purpose of this band is to provide stability to the knee. On the other hand, it can get irritated due to friction between the iliotibial band and base of the femur. Take note that iliotibial band friction syndrome is considered one of the most common causes of knee pain among individuals who engage in cycling and running.

iliotibial band

One of the symptoms of iliotibial band friction syndrome is the tight sensation on the exterior of the knee that starts to burn or sting during physical activity.

How it occurs

Constant running on the same side of a sloping road causes friction, inflammation and irritation of the iliotibial band. As a result, it causes a tilt in the pelvis while one foot strikes the surface below the other. Understandably, there is more stress placed on the iliotibial band.

There are other causes of iliotibial band friction syndrome which includes repetitive straightening and bending of the knee and anatomical problems.  Problems with the anatomy typically include excessive pronation of the ankle and foot, bowed legs, differences in the length of the leg, weak or tight quad or gluteal muscles and a lateral tilt to the pelvis.

Who are at risk for iliotibial band friction syndrome?

Individuals who engage in running or cycling are prone to the condition but it can also affect skiers, weight lifters and racquet sport players.

What are the symptoms of iliotibial band friction syndrome?

If an individual has iliotibial band friction syndrome, the following symptoms are likely to manifest.

  • Tight sensation on the exterior of the knee that starts to burn or sting during physical activity
  • Pain on the exterior of the knee after physical activity
  • Increased pain when the individual walks, runs downhill  or getting out of a vehicle
  • Popping or snapping sensation
  • Pain subsides when at rest
  • Individual walks with a stiff leg to relieve the friction

Treatment for iliotibial band friction syndrome

Instruct the individual to rest from the activity that triggered the pain. The individual can still perform any exercise routine as long as stress is not placed on the iliotibial band.

As a first aid measure, you can apply ice packs to the affected knee for 15-20 minutes each session at 3-4 times in a day. Do not apply ice directly on the skin since it can cause damage to the skin. You can cover the affected area using a clean towel or cloth before the ice pack is applied.

A physical therapist usually recommends stretching the iliotibial band for 20-30 seconds at 4-6 times in a day. In case the symptoms do not subside within two weeks, it is best to consult a doctor right away.

Preventing iliotibial band friction syndrome

There are ways in order to prevent the condition from occurring. Initially, the individual must warm up steadily before any exercise routine or sport. Avoid increasing the intensity of a workout abruptly since it will increase the risk for the injury. Lastly, always wear shoes that provide adequate lateral support during training.


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