6 Iliotibial Band Syndrome Exercises for Runners to Kick the Pain

6 Iliotibial Band Syndrome Exercises for Runners to Kick the Pain

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Running injuries sideline runners daily, and iliotibial band syndrome (commonly known as IT band syndrome) is a big offender.

The IT band is a connective tissue that runs down the outside of our thighs, and can cause run-stopping pain in runners when overused.

So how can we prevent the pain? What should we do, as runners, to get our happy runs back?

The answer: Iliotibial band syndrome exercises.

In this post, I’ll explain what IT band syndrome is, what the symptoms are, and 6 iliotibial band syndrome exercises to do to kick the pain (and be able to run again!).

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What is Iliotibial Band Syndrome?

IT band syndrome (ITBS) is a condition caused by overuse that often results in pain on the side of the knee.

The IT band itself is often misunderstood – it is not a muscle, but rather a connective tissue. It runs from the pelvis all the way down to the tibia (shin bone).

It’s an important leg stabilizer.

Image Credit: medicinenet.com

Common Causes of ITBS:

  • Abnormal increase in exercise or an especially tough workout (runners, I’m looking at you: always stick to the 10% rule! Don’t increase weekly or long run mileage by more than 10% week over week). This is really the #1 cause of ITBS symptoms.
  • Muscle weakness is supporting and connecting muscles such as the glutes (butt muscles) that cause the IT band to rub against bone/knee joint
  • Abnormal biomechanics: In runners, this can mean you’re not maintaining your natural running form or foot strike, causing your alignment to be off (and thus resulting in the same friction discussed in the previous bullet point)
  • Tight hip muscles:

Less Common Causes of ITBS:

  • Excessive downhill or downstairs movement. Hikers sometimes experience ITBS after a long descent.
  • Flare-ups related to recent surgeries
  • Bad running gear choices, namely poorly-fitting running sneakers that cause overpronation or underpronation (meaning your foot rolls inward or outward, and doesn’t maintain your body’s natural movement, which causes friction and pain in the IT band)

What Are Symptoms of Iliotibial Band Syndrome?

Pain is frequently felt on the outside of the knee.

See the following image for a visual of where the pain usually happens:

Image credit: painscience.com

However, some runners report pain slightly further above that red spot too.

Symptoms can present somewhat suddenly, especially after a bout of intense exercise, or can build up over time to become more and more intense.

You may feel pain while walking down stairs, downhill, or while walking or running.

Ok, so you’ve learned what ITBS is and what symptoms are indicators of the issue, now let’s talk about how to prevent it.

RELATED: 8 Easy Ways to Prevent Running Injuries

How Do I Treat IT Band Pain?

This is where it gets a little tricky.

Experts seem to disagree on treatments options, although you’ll find a plethora of recommendations on the internet (ranging from stretching to exercises to cortisone shots and more).

The most commonly-accepted treatments include:

  • Iliotibial band exercises (to strengthen muscles connected to, and surrounding, the IT band)
  • Hip stretches – since tight hip muscles are often the cause of the issue
  • Sports massage or dry needling to get tightness and knots out of other muscles that could be causing IT band pain

You’ll also see foam rolling as a suggested treatment, but the since the IT band itself is not a muscle, foam rolling it won’t really help that much.

You can, however, do foam rolling on related muscles like the hips, glutes, hamstrings, and quads, and it may provide some relief from the IT band pain.

RELATED: 6 Classic Foam Rolling Moves All Runners Should Do

This post speaks directly to iliotibial band exercises only (and doesn’t get into any other methods of treatment).

We’re going to work specifically on strengthening the gluteus (butt) muscles and the hips.

7 Iliotibial Band Syndrome Exercises to Reduce the Pain

Are you a runner?

Then I have some GREAT news for you – ALL of the exercises will help you in two different ways!

For one, they’ll help reduce and prevent IT band pain, and two, they’ll increase your stability and strength for running (which will help prevent other annoying running injuries, while also making you faster too!).

Do these exercises (or a combo of some of them) 3-4 times per week for the best results.

1.) Bridges

Iliotibial Band Syndrome Exercises - Bridges

Why Do The Exercise:

Bridges work the glute muscles, which are your butt muscles, to strengthen them to increase hip-area stability and strength.

How to Do The Exercise:

Lay down on your back, and put your feet on the ground about a foot or so from your butt.

Then, squeeze your glute (butt) muscles, and rise up, then back down. Try to only use your glute muscles and not your thighs or hamstrings, for the desired results.

Start by doing 8, then rest, then repeat 2 more times.

2.) Clamshells

Iliotibial Band Syndrome Exercises - Clamshells

Why Do The Exercise:

Again, you want to strengthen the hip muscles to reduce (and hopefully eventually eliminate and prevent) IT band symptoms. Clamshells isolate the hip muscle for an excellent hip-strengthening move (with a funny name).

How to Do The Exercise:

Lay on your side. Support your head with your arm. Put your feet together, one on top of the other. Engage your core, and stack your hips.

Now, lift your top knee up. Be careful to hold everything else in position – keep your back straight, keep your hips stacked, and don’t allow yourself to lean forward or backwards.

Do 8 on each side, then rest, then repeat 2 more times.

3.) Heel Drop

Why Do The Exercise:

Hip and glute strength, with load (load=bodyweight…don’t take it personally). 😉

How to Do The Exercise:

Stand on the edge of a step or step box. Stand tall (straight back, abs engaged, shoulders back) and slowly tilt your butt backwards a little and down, so your foot dips down past the edge of the step.

Be very careful not to overdo this move! Small, intentional movements are best.

Do 4-6 to start, then rest. Repeat 2 more times. If 4-6 feel too easy, try 8-10.

4.) Lateral Walk With a Band

Image credit: verywellhealth.com

Why Do The Exercise:

Hips, baby, hips!

In case you hadn’t gotten the theme of this post yet 🙂

How To Do The Exercise:

Put a resistance band around your ankles. Stand with your back straight, and your shoulders back (aka: in good posture), with feet hip width apart.

Then, step to the right until you feel resistance, then bring the other foot in (see image above for the correct movement).

Walk 8-10 steps to the right, then 8-10 steps back. Rest. Then repeat 2 more times.

Need resistance bands? Grab these on Amazon here (they’re less than $10) and look like this:

5.) Single Leg Raise

Why Do The Exercise:

The single leg raise works your quad muscles, which are also known as your thigh muscles. Those muscles are closely tied to the hip muscles and overall leg stability while running, so strengthening them will aid in reducing IT band symptoms.

How to Do The Exercise:

Lay flat on the ground, and engage your core. Tilt your pelvis back so your back in not arched at all (goal is having your back as flat as possible during this exercise).

Plant one foot about 1 foot from your butt, and keep the other flat on the ground. Then, keeping that leg flat, slowly lift it up (to about a 45 degree angle or so), and then slowly bring it back down to the ground.

Do 8 on each leg, then rest. Repeat 2 more times.

6.) Single Leg Squat

Image credit: popsugar.com

Why Do The Exercise:

LEG POWER MOVE! Specifically, glutes, hips, hamstrings and quads.

Plus as a Bonus benefit: This move helps improve stability (which improves your running!).

How To Do The Exercise:

Stand straight, engage your core, and lift one straight leg up and out. Hold it there while you drop into a squat (making sure to keep your back straight and shoulders back the whole time). Don’t allow your bending knee to go too far forward, or to collapse inward either. Then, go back to standing position.

This move is challenging. Start with 6-8 repetitions, rest, then repeat 2 more times.

“Ok, So What Do I Next?”

Now that you know 6 great iliotibial band syndrome exercises, it’s time to act on them!

Try the Free 5-Day Strength Challenge for Runners and get 1 easy & quick strength move delivered to your inbox each day!

Why? It will get your started with many of these same exercises, over a 5 day period to get you used to strength exercises so you can kick IT band pain TO THE CURB!

Sign up now (it’s free!).

Note: I am not a doctor of physical therapist. The information presented here is intended to be informational, and does not replace the advice of a professional. Always seek professional advice if you have a question specific to your body or your situation.

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