Iliotibial Band Syndrome: Why Runners? Understanding Biomechanics & Common Risk Factors.

Knowing more about the anatomy associated with the Iliotibial band (IT Band Article #1) is a great start, but that alone will not decrease the stabbing feeling you had on the outside of your knee as you attempted a long run this past weekend.

 
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We are moving forward with our IT Band Syndrome Relief series. This time we aim at the biomechanics (boring for some, but very important) of the Iliotibial band and why it is causing you pain. From there, we are going to look at some common risk factors and other things you are doing every time you go out to run that is making it worse.

 

 

BASIC BIOMECHANICS

When we look at the function of the Iliotibial Band, it primarily assumes the role of lateral knee stability. Understanding that it originates from the Iliac crest and inserts on the tibia (Gerdy’s tubercle, remember?) we realize that it is a two joint muscle. When a muscle crosses and acts on two joints, in this case, the hip and knee, the likelihood of injury dramatically increases, especially when it is subjected to overuse overload.

With this setup, the IT Band also acts to extend, abduct (raise the leg out to the side), and externally rotate out the hip. As we will discuss in our next article about self-care for the IT Band, we know the muscle of the hip are the primary culprit and where we will focus our attention during clinical and home care.

BUT WHY THE PAIN AT THE KNEE?

While the Iliotibial band crosses the knee to attach to the tibia (fibular and patella according to some studies) providing stability to the outside of the knee, it moves as the knee bends and extends during walking and running.

 
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When we bend our leg, the IT Band moves anterior to, or forward, across the lateral condyle of the femur bone (SNAP!), then, when the knee nears 30 degrees of bend, it moves posteriorly, or back over the lateral condyle of the femur (SNAP!).

Now, think about how many steps you take on your average 5-mile run. If you have tightness in the hip musculature, namely the TFL and Glute Max muscles, they are pulling tension through the IT Band causing an up close and personal relationship between the band and the femoral condyle we just mentioned. When we work through the running gate cycle, we cross the 30 degrees of flexion and extend back out of it over and over….SNAP, SNAP, SNAP!

Take this friction, and add force. The force from each and every foot slap on the ground while running has to be dispersed through the muscles, ligaments, tendons, and joints. While not proven, my own personal ‘journey’ with IT Band Syndrome led me to find that when I trained on softer surfaces, my knee pain was less severe.

Either way, this force, friction, and the magic number of 30 degrees do not play well together. As you can see in this video, if you run with somewhat decent form, your foot strikes the ground somewhere between 20 and 30 degrees of knee flexion (SNAP!) and when you follow-through the gait cycle to push off and bring your leg forward, you near full extension (SNAP!) and back into bending of the knee (SNAP!).

 

 

COMMON RISK FACTORS & RUNNING MISTAKES

Common Risk Factor #1: Too Much, Too Hard, Too Soon

We have all done it…try to pick up where we left off either from an injury, vacation, or some much needed time off after a goal race. However, this typically affects the newer runner. You find a plan online, it looks fun, doable, but you soon find out it was too much. Increasing your intensity and volume at the same time spells disaster for the most veteran runner, for the newbies, this is the quickest way to stop running. Take it slow, slower than you want to. Build up your volume, EARN YOUR BASE, then maintain that volume and slowly increase your intensity. THERE IS NO OTHER WAY!

Common Risk Factor #2: Not Taking The ‘Road’ Less Traveled

Do you always run on the road? I mean ALWAYS? How about sticking to one side of the road on every run? We all know that roads are banked, but if you are always running on the right side, your body will adapt to that slight lean, causing problems down the road (pun intended there). With that, try the track, trails, aqua jogging, a treadmill. Just like shoes, you need variety. Note: Watch the video above, and look for pt 3, we talk on this more.

Common Risk Factor #3: “What Is Strength Training?” -Runners Everywhere

One of the most common causes of IT Band Syndrome is weakened hip muscles. It will come as no surprise when we discuss clinical and home care that strengthening the hips is a GIANT part of the rehab and future prevention process. It’s okay runners, I was scared of the weights at one point in time too!

Common Risk Factor #4: Who Has Time To Warm-Up?

The next significant change we make during care is the Warm-Up. If you just said, “The What?” Then we just found the cause of your IT Band Syndrome Pain. Warming up not only helps prevent injury, but it makes you a better runner. There, I said it, now start doing it.

Common Cause #5: Developmental & Gait Abnormalities

Overpronation, leg length discrepancies, bow-leggedness, poor hip mobility due to underlying causes. These are all challenging, and for most, they just add to the problem. A perfect example is that I personally found that I have a 1.5 cm short leg. I found this out when I was over 30, my body was adapted to it. Putting a lift in or selecting a supportive shoe would have only worsened my condition. I did, however, have to be strategic in my strength training, mobility work, and where and how I trained. If you fall into this category, call our office, or someone near you that understands running injuries as you do need help from a professional to find the right rehab exercise and mobility drills to help you run pain-free.

 

 

SUMMARY

  • Tight and weak hips lead to poor function and support of the IT Band. This allows the band to SNAP at the knee, producing overuse friction, and long-standing pain.

  • Risks come in all varieties, some you are doing every day. Take your training slow, work in strength training, vary your training surfaces, and warm up before running!



Dr. Reheisse is a Board Certified Chiropractic Sports Physician practicing in the Greater Salt Lake City Area of Utah. Revive Sport & Spine provides evidence-supported chiropractic care and conservative sports injury management.