If you frequently feel a burning pain on the side of your knee, you may be experiencing iliotibial band syndrome. The iliotibial band, which is commonly referred to as the IT band, runs from the outside of your upper thigh to the outside of your knee, and its function is to provide support and stability to your upper leg. Excessive strain on the IT band causes it to become inflamed, which results in chronic pain that becomes worse while you're walking around.
Physical therapy can help reduce your IT band pain through stretches and light exercises that lengthen your gluteal muscles and reduce the tension on your IT band. If you're suffering from chronic pain on the side of your knee and think that it might be related to IT band syndrome, read on to find out more about why the pain happens and how physical therapy can help stop it.
What Causes IT Band Syndrome?
When you bend your leg at the knee and then straighten it out again, the IT band passes over a small protrusion at the bottom of your thigh bone called the lateral epicondyle. The IT band normally glides over this bony protrusion with ease due to the lubricated bursa on the underside of the IT band, but repeated motions cause the IT band to become inflamed and painful.
Since IT band syndrome is an overuse injury, it's most common in athletes. Weightlifters, runners, and cyclists all frequently suffer from IT band syndrome since all of these activities require participants to repeatedly bend and straighten their legs. However, IT band syndrome can also occur in non-athletes as well. People who work on their feet for the majority of the day, such as nurses and restaurant chefs, are also at risk of developing IT band syndrome—they place stress on the IT band all day long without giving it a chance to rest.
How Can Physical Therapy Help With IT Band Syndrome?
First, a physical therapist can determine whether or not your pain is truly caused by IT band syndrome. Pain on the outside of the knee can also be a sign of a tear in the lateral meniscus or a stress fracture in the lateral epicondyle. Your physical therapist will have you perform several stretches that stress your IT band in order to determine if it's the source of your pain.
If your IT band is determined to be the source of your pain, you'll need to avoid strenuous physical activity while it heals. Once the pain has subsided slightly and the healing process has begun, your physical therapist will teach you several stretches that lengthen your gluteal muscles and your thigh muscles. This reduces tension on the IT band, which allows it to glide over the lateral epicondyle more easily.
Additionally, your physical therapist will teach you exercises that are designed to strengthen your gluteal muscles. If your gluteal muscles aren't strong enough, you'll be more prone to turning your leg slightly inwards when you walk, cycle or run. This inward turn places extra stress on your IT band, which makes injury more likely.
Resting your IT band allows it to heal, and performing the stretches and exercises given to you by your physical therapist reduces the chance that you'll injure it again. You'll be able to alleviate the pain on the side of your knee and minimize the chances of it coming back in the future, whether it was caused by exercising, playing sports or working. If you think that you're suffering from IT band pain, schedule an appointment with a physical therapy clinic in your area to determine what's causing the pain and to receive a treatment plan to help you eliminate it.
For more information, contact a physical therapist.