The iliotibial band, also known as the IT band, is a superficial thickening of tissue on the outside of the thigh. It extends from the outside of the pelvis, over the hip and knee, and inserts just below the knee. The IT band is very important in stabilizing the knee. Irritation is often found around the insertion of the band as it rubs on the outside of the knee area and is referred to as iliotibial band syndrome (ITBS). ITBS is a common injury in runners and cyclists due to the repetitive knee range of motion, which can cause excessive rubbing along the knee.
There are many different causes of irritation that can vary from training habits to anatomical abnormalities or muscle imbalances. Running on banked surfaces and/or cycling with a toe in increases the stress to the insertion and make these individuals even more prone to injury. ITBS may also be found in individuals with foot abnormalities, such as high or low arches, that affect the knee position during walking or running. Muscle imbalances, especially weakness in the hip muscles and excessive tightness of the IT band, may also cause friction along the knee area. In addition to knee pain, injury to the IT band can cause hip pain.
As you can see, ITBS can have various mechanisms of injury which can be addressed with physical therapy. On your first visit to physical therapy, the physical therapist evaluates the injury, determines the cause or source of pain and tailors a treatment program specific to the individual. The goal is not only to restore the individual to full function, but to address the primary cause to decrease the risk of future occurrences as well.