How to Stop IT Band Pain While Running: That Pain On The Outside Of Your Knee
IT band pain from running (ITBS or Illiotibial Band Syndrome)
You know that annoying running pain, the one on the outside of your knee, that comes on slowly and seems to stay and worsen ever-slightly with every step? Aching, rather than stabbing, pain, and constantly there for the rest of your run and probably afterwards. Yep, that pain is quite possibly your IT Band (Illio-tibial Band) that runs up the outside of your leg from knee to hip, getting inflamed from rubbing on the side of your knee. It ruined many a run for me in the past, too. I’m going to share exercises to help you stop IT band pain for good.
Well, I have some good news. I stopped getting this pain a few years ago from taking some advice from my physio, extensive internet research, and deciding on a three-pronged approach to getting rid of the issue, for good (click the links below to jump to a section):
Before we get onto those, it is important to remember that what will NOT help is continuing to run on it while it’s sore, you need to let your IT Band injury heal. Also, it will not miraculously be better on future runs unless you treat the cause of IT Band pain.
As always, you should consider consulting a doctor or sports physio with any pain from running. If you’re convinced you have IT Band pain from running, then read on for my tips on stopping getting IT Band pain, from my experience hopefully they’ll help you, too!
1. Strengthening your glutes
If you understand that often the IT band pain comes from your weak glutes allowing your knee to turn in, towards the other knee, thereby stretching the band and irritating it as it rubs on your bony knee joint, then you can appreciate that by strengthening the bum muscles you can encourage them to hold the leg in a more natural, stronger position and reduce the likelihood of this happening.
Top glute exercises for this are:
- Side leg lifts (done standing or lying down). Remember to keep the lifted leg slightly back, so you’re using your glutes in the movement. It starts to burn after 10+ reps so you know you’re doing them correctly
- Donkey kicks
These are great as I found I could do them while I couldn’t run (i.e. when my knee was still sore). So I was working on preventing the issue from recurring, and keeping myself busy / from going crazy when I couldn’t get out and actually run!
My personal view is that foam rolling a sore IT band directly, doesn’t help and could make it worse by agitating it. However, when you’ve given your glutes a good workout, I find it really helps to foam roll the area to relieve tension. If you don’t already have a foam roller, don’t worry because they are very reasonably priced. A sturdy grid foam roller like this one from Trigger Point will do the job nicely.
If you wan’t to step it up a notch, you can try one of the new vibrating foam rollers that claim to work out tension in tight muscles much faster.
Most runners could benefit from having stronger glutes – in fact, pretty much everyone could, runner or not.
We spend too much time sitting down and not enough time working out those muscles. So doing these is going to be a good thing for you anyway, even if you don’t experience ITB pain.
You can also use other fun equipment to liven up gym sessions like balance and friction trainers. Check out some example exercises that are great for your glutes, in these videos:
2. Stretches that will help stop IT band pain
After a run I always do a set of different stretches, and include this simple ITB stretch in that routine. It helps to stretch and relax the area after you’ve cooled down, and it feels good.
I’m not a physio or medical expert but my personal view from experience is that you can’t stretch the ITB itself to stop IT band pain, and that may make it hurt even more. It just needs time to recover, and I personally did not see or experience benefits from trying to stretch my IT band, or foam roll the side of my leg, while it was sore. I definitely see the stretching aspect as a preventative method only – i.e. to help avoid getting the problem in the future (when combined with the strengthening and mindful running tips I’m sharing in this post).
Cross one leg in front of the other while standing. With both feet on the floor, reach down with both hands and try and touch the toe or the outside calf of the back leg. You should feel the stretch down that same back leg.
Stretching other parts of your legs and body should help, too, so you’re reducing the possibility of having post-run tension or tightness in other areas that may affect your ITB.
3. Mindful running
Run on trails more often. They are more forgiving than pounding pavement. Although if you’ve had the pain recently, try and avoid too many hills, as I find they can exacerbate the issue while you’re recovering.
Think about your bum (glutes!) when you run, especially on downhills and when running quickly. It trains you to remember to engage the glute muscles with each landing and push-off, so you have better bio-mechanics for that movement. If you improve your running form then you’re less likely to experience injuries.
The only time I have ever felt the slightest niggle from my ITB in the last few years since doing these, is when I’ve run a long way, with a lot of downhills, and haven’t focused on using my glute muscles in those downhill sections. But I find the pain goes away if I catch it soon enough and remember to squeeze.
I hope these tips help and you’re able to stop your IT band pain from ruining future runs.