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IT Band Syndrome Exercises | BackCountry Physical Therapy

IT Band Syndrome Exercises | BackCountry Physical Therapy

Finding relief from IT band syndrome can be a challenging journey, but with the right exercises and guidance, you can alleviate pain and improve your mobility. This article provides an in-depth overview of the most effective IT band syndrome exercises, including IT band syndrome stretches and strengthening routines. We’ll also cover exercises to avoid, physical therapy options, and tips for incorporating these exercises into your daily routine to help you find relief quickly and get back to your favorite activities.

What is IT Band Syndrome?

IT band syndrome, also known as iliotibial band syndrome (ITBS), is a common overuse injury among distance runners, cyclists, and hikers. The iliotibial tract, a band of connective tissue, runs from the hip to the knee and can become inflamed due to repetitive motion. This condition affects between 2% and 25% of active individuals and is rarely seen in people who do not engage in regular physical activity. Understanding the condition is the first step in developing an effective treatment plan.

Signs And Symptoms of IT Band Syndrome

Understanding the signs and symptoms of IT band syndrome is crucial for early detection and effective treatment. Recognizing the key indicators can help you seek timely intervention and prevent further complications.

  • Pain on the outer thigh, knee, or hip: A common symptom of IT band syndrome is a sharp or burning pain on the outside of the thigh, knee, or hip, especially during or after physical activity.
  • Tenderness or tightness along the iliotibial (IT) band: The IT band may feel tender to the touch or excessively tight, particularly after exercise.
  • Clicking or popping sound when bending the knee: Some individuals report clicking or popping sound when bending or straightening the knee, often linked to knee flexion and movement of the IT band over the knee joint.
  • Swelling and inflammation in the affected area: Inflammation and swelling can occur along the IT band, causing discomfort and restricting movement.
  • Difficulty walking or running due to pain: Severe pain can make walking or running difficult, impacting daily activities and athletic performance.

Causes of IT Band Syndrome

Identifying the causes of IT band syndrome is important for developing a targeted treatment plan. This section explores the various factors that contribute to the onset of IT band syndrome, helping you understand how to prevent and manage this common condition.

  • Overuse from activities like running, cycling, or hiking: Repetitive movements and overuse are common culprits, leading to irritation and inflammation of the IT band.
  • Muscle imbalances, particularly weak hip abductors and gluteal muscles: Weakness in the hip muscles, including the glute muscles, can contribute to improper movement patterns, increasing stress on the IT band.
  • Structural issues like leg length discrepancies or foot pronation: Structural abnormalities can alter biomechanics, putting additional strain on the IT band.
  • Sudden increases in training volume or intensity: Rapid changes in workout intensity or duration can overload the IT band, leading to injury.
  • Poor form or technique during activities: Incorrect technique in running, cycling, or other activities can exacerbate IT band issues.

Effective IT Band Syndrome Exercises

Effective IT Band Syndrome Exercises

Incorporating the right exercises into your routine is vital for alleviating the symptoms of IT band syndrome and preventing future flare-ups. This section highlights the most effective IT band syndrome exercises, including stretches and strengthening routines, to help you find relief and improve your mobility.

Stretches for IT Band Relief

Side-Lying Leg Raises

Side-lying leg raises target the hip abductors, helping to improve strength and stability in the hips, reducing strain on the IT band. Start in a side-lying position with your legs straight and your feet flat against the wall. Lift the top leg upwards while keeping it straight, engaging the gluteal muscles and abdominal muscles to maintain stability.

Forward Fold with Crossed Legs

This stretch targets the IT band directly by crossing one leg over the other and bending forward, providing a deep stretch along the outer thigh. From a standing position, cross your left leg over your right and slowly bend forward, keeping both feet flat on the ground. This stretch helps alleviate iliotibial band tightness and can be held for 30 seconds.

Cow Face Pose

A yoga pose that involves crossing the legs and folding forward, helps to stretch the hips, glutes, and IT band. Sit with your knees bent and stacked over each other, bringing your feet to the sides of your hips. Lean forward to deepen the stretch and hold the position, feeling the stretch in the hip and outer knee.

Seated Spinal Twist

Twisting the torso while seated can stretch the outer thigh and hip area, alleviating tension in the IT band. Sit with your legs extended in front of you, then cross your left knee over your right and twist your torso towards the left knee, using your right elbow to press against the outside of your left thigh.

Foam Roller Stretch

Using a foam roller on the outer thigh helps to release tightness and improve blood flow to the IT band. Lie on your side with the foam roller under your left thigh. Roll from your hip to your knee, focusing on tender areas to reduce band tightness.

Strengthening Exercises to Prevent IT Band Syndrome


Clamshells strengthen the hip abductors and external rotators, providing better support for the IT band. Lie on your side with your knees bent and feet together. Lift your top knee while keeping your feet together, engaging the core muscles for stability.

Lateral Leg Raises

Lateral leg raises target the gluteus medius and minimus, which help stabilize the pelvis and reduce IT band stress. Stand with your feet flat on the ground and lift one leg to the side, keeping it straight and engaging the abdominal muscles to maintain balance.

Eccentric Squats

Performing squats with a focus on the eccentric (lowering) phase helps build strength in the quads and glutes, supporting overall leg stability. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and lower yourself slowly into a squat position, ensuring your knees stay aligned with your feet.

Side Lunges

Side lunges strengthen the hip abductors and adductors, promoting balanced muscle development. Step to the side with one leg while bending the knee and keeping the other leg straight. Push back to the starting position and repeat on the other side.

Hip Abductor Machine

Using a hip abductor machine isolates and strengthens the hip muscles, reducing the risk of IT band syndrome. Sit with your legs pressed against the machine pads and push outwards, focusing on engaging the glute muscles.

IT Band Syndrome Exercises to Avoid

IT Band Syndrome Exercises to Avoid

Certain exercises can exacerbate the symptoms of IT band syndrome, leading to increased pain and discomfort. This section outlines the exercises to avoid, ensuring you don’t unintentionally worsen your condition while aiming for recovery.

Running or Cycling

High-impact activities like running or cycling can exacerbate IT band pain, especially if done without proper form or conditioning. It’s crucial to avoid these activities during the acute phase of iliotibial band syndrome.

Squats or Lunges

Squats and lunges are also IT band syndrome exercises to avoid since they can strain the IT band if performed incorrectly or if the muscles supporting the IT band are weak. Ensure proper technique and consider modifying these exercises until you have regained strength and stability.

Improper Foam Rolling

Foam rolling with too much pressure or incorrect technique can aggravate the IT band, leading to increased pain and inflammation. Always use gentle stretches and apply moderate pressure when foam rolling.

The Role of Physical Therapy for IT Band Syndrome

Physical therapy for IT band syndrome plays a crucial role in treating this condition. A physical therapist can provide personalized exercises and stretches, assess and correct biomechanical issues, and use techniques like manual therapy and ultrasound therapy to reduce inflammation and pain. They may also recommend nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to help manage pain and swelling.

At Backcountry Physical Therapy, we specialize in providing personalized care and effective treatment plans for individuals suffering from knee pain and other musculoskeletal issues. Our expert team utilizes advanced techniques and evidence-based practices in physical therapy to address the root causes of iliotibial band syndrome and other related conditions. With our comprehensive approach, you can expect to alleviate pain, improve mobility, and enhance your overall quality of life, allowing you to return to your favorite activities with confidence.


IT band syndrome can be a painful and frustrating condition, but with the right exercises and proper guidance, relief is achievable. Incorporating stretches and strengthening exercises, avoiding activities that exacerbate the condition, and seeking the help of a physical therapist can make a significant difference in your recovery.


How do you get rid of IT band syndrome fast?

To alleviate IT band syndrome quickly, focus on rest, ice, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Incorporate gentle stretching and strengthening exercises as tolerated, and consider seeing a physical therapist for a tailored treatment plan.

What is the best exercise for a tight IT band?

Foam rolling combined with stretches like the forward fold with crossed legs and side-lying leg raises can effectively target and relieve a tight IT band. Additionally, resistance band exercises can help strengthen the key muscles around the hip and knee joints.

Can you fully recover from IT band syndrome?

Yes, with proper treatment, including rest, physical therapy, and a gradual return to activity, most individuals can fully recover from IT band syndrome. Consistency with exercises and addressing underlying causes are key to preventing recurrence.

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Dr. Scott Runyon

Backcountry Physical Therapy

We Help Mountain Athletes Not Only Recover From Injuries, But Build Them Back Stronger Than They Were Before, So That Injuries Are Less Likely To Happen Again!