It doesn't get said enough: Working out pain-free is a gift. And that's especially true if you've ever experienced an achy IT band (the connective tissue that runs from your hip down to your knee).
"IT band tendonitis, if you continue to run on it, is going to be painful and likely to be inflamed," says Alexis Colvin, MD, orthopedic surgeon at Mount Sinai in New York. "In general that is something that you want to try to take care of and not push through."
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Luckily, you can help prevent unwanted aches and pains with a targeted strength routine. We spoke with Dr. Colvin and Greg Laraia, ATC, an athletic trainer and running consultant at Custom Performance Physical Therapy in New York, to narrow down all the best IT band exercises to keep your legs feeling fresh and pain-free.
Exercises to Strengthen and Stop IT Band Pain
1. Hip Flexor Flow
- Kneel on the ground with your right foot on the floor, knee bent at 90 degrees and left knee on the ground, bent at 90 degrees.
- Slowly push your hips forward into your right knee, keeping your back flat.
- Hold this position for 20 seconds.
- Return to the starting position.
- Raise your arms straight above your head and reach to the right, bending your torso.
- Hold here for 20 seconds.
- Repeat this motion 5 times and then switch sides.
2. Single-Leg Bridge
- Lie on your back with your arms across your chest, feet flat on the floor and knees pointing toward the ceiling.
- Raise your right foot a few inches off the ground, keeping the 90-degree bend.
- Drive the hips up into the air, drawing your bellybutton into your spine to help keep your back flat.
- Slowly lower your hips back to the ground.
- Repeat this motion for 8 reps and switch sides.
Pull your bellybutton into your spine to contract your core. Hold your midsection active through the entire exercise to prevent your back from over-arching.
3. Elvis Knees
- Place a small resistance band around your legs, right above your knees.
- Bend your knees slightly and balance your weight evenly in both legs.
- Keeping your right leg stable, rotate your left knee inward, pivoting your left foot.
- Rotate your left foot outward so your knee points away from the right leg.
- That's one rep. Repeat this motion 10 times.
- Repeat this motion on the other side.
Resistance Bands We Love
- Nicole Miller Resistance Bands ($12.99, Amazon.com)
- Fit Simplify Resistance Loop Exercise Bands ($12.95, Amazon.com)
- Aduro Sport Resistance Bands Set ($9.99, Amazon.com)
What If You Already Have IT Band Pain?
While preventative IT band exercises are great at keeping pain away, they can only do so much if you're already experiencing pain.
Feeling a little IT band pain or soreness is one thing. But IT Band Syndrome (ITBS) is a more severe condition. ITBS is where your IT band gets swollen and irritated from continuously rubbing against your knee or hip bones, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
What's the difference between a little IT band irritation and full-blown ITBS? For one, ITBS is an intense, consistent aching or burning feeling in your hips or knees, per the Cleveland Clinic. And left unaddressed (more on that below), the pain becomes sharper.
Generally, ITBS is accompanied by grating sounds and/or feelings in your knees or hips, too. Often, the pain worsens with exercise and can feel especially uncomfortable when you walk or jog downhill.
A good rule of thumb? If your IT band pain persists or worsens after a few weeks, contact your doctor for a formal diagnosis.
How to Treat IT Band Syndrome
Rest is your top ally in treating IT band pain and ITBS, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Some doctors may also recommend anti-inflammatory medications but it's best to ask a professional for your best treatment method.
In some cases, a doctor may also prescribe physical therapy to help strengthen the supporting muscles around your IT band. And although it's pretty uncommon, severe cases may require steroid injections or surgery (again, this is rare).
Adjusting your usual workout schedule is usually necessary, including some stretching and mobility work (but you want to stay away from foam rolling your IT band). For a while, your doctor may recommend cutting out exercise completely. But as you grow stronger and the pain lessens, a physical therapist may recommend some workout adjustments, like decreased mileage or exercise swaps.