Iliotibial band friction syndrome (ITBS) is a condition that causes hip pain or knee pain. It is a common running injury, but it can also occur in non-runners. Often ITBS requires physical therapy to help decrease pain, improve range of motion around the hip and knee, and strengthen the hip muscles and muscles around the knee.
Many times, tightness in a structure called the iliotibial band can be one cause of ITBS. The iliotibial band is a thick band of tissue that extends from the side of your hip to your knee. As the iliotibial band crosses the outside, or lateral, part of your knee, it may rub abnormally, causing pain.
Sometimes, tightness in the iliotibial band causes hip pain. More frequently, iliotibial band tightness causes lateral knee pain. The pain usually feels like a sharp, burning sensation on the outside part of your kneecap (patella). Tightness here can also cause your kneecap to move out of position, causing patellofemoral stress syndrome or patella subluxations.
Iliotibial band friction syndrome may limit your ability to run. In severe cases, you may also feel sharp knee pain when rising from sitting or with walking. Sometimes walking up and down stairs becomes a problem if you have ITBS.
If you have lateral knee pain or hip pain, you should consult with your doctor or physical therapist to determine if it is ITBS. Your physical therapist can assess your situation and prescribe exercises to help improve your strength and flexibility in your iliotibial band.
One common exercise to stretch the iliotibial band is the standing ITB stretch. This stretch is done standing against a wall, and the stretch is more directed at the iliotibial band as it crosses the hip.
To stretch the iliotibial band and direct the stretch closer to the knee, try the sidelying ITB stretch. This stretch is a great way to improve flexibility of the ilotibial band where it crosses the lasteral aspect of the knee. Here is how you do it:
- Start by lying on one side. The side that you wish to stretch should be on top.
- Keep your bottom knee bent for stability, then reach back and grab the ankle of your upper leg and bend your knee. You should feel tightness in the front of your thigh (the quadriceps muscle).
- While holding your upper knee bent, gently rest the foot of your bottom leg on top of your upper knee. Use your foot on top of your knee to slowly pull your upper knee down towards the floor. You should feel a pulling sensation in the side of your kneecap where the iliotibial band crosses the knee joint.
- Hold this position for 30-60 seconds, and then relax. Repeat this stretch 3-5 times.
This stretching exericse for your iliotibial band can be done 2-3 times per day. Of course, if you have any questions or are feeling increased pain, contact your physical therapist for more one-on-one instruction in this stretch. Also, you should consult your doctor before starting any exercise program to ensure that exercise is safe for you to do.
Iliotibial band friction syndrome can cause knee pain and hip pain, and it can limit your ability to walk, run, and enjoy normal recreational activity. The sidelying iliotibial band stretch is one exercise that you can do to help improve your flexibility to help you quickly get back to normal function.