What causes iliotibial band (IT band) syndrome?
Iliotibial band inflammation is an overuse syndrome that occurs most often in long-distance runners, bicyclists, and other athletes who repeatedly squat. The iliotibial band syndrome may be the result of a combination of issues, including
- poor training habits,
- poor flexibility of muscle, and
- other mechanical imbalances in the body, especially involving the low back, pelvis, hips, and knees.
There can be a predisposition to develop IT band syndrome. Anatomy issues may include differences in the lengths of the legs (a leg-length discrepancy), an abnormal tilt to the pelvis, or bowed legs (genu varum). These situations can cause the iliotibial band to become excessively tight, leading to increased friction and irritation when the band crosses back and forth across the femoral epicondyle during activity.
Training errors may cause runners to develop iliotibial band syndrome symptoms. Roads are canted or banked with the center of the road higher than the outside edge to allow for water runoff. If a runner always runs on the same side of the road, it produces the same effect on the body as having a leg-length discrepancy. One leg is always downhill compared to the other, and the pelvis has to tilt to accommodate the activity. Running too many hills can also cause inflammation of the IT band. Running downhill is especially stressful on the IT band as it works to stabilize the knee.
Bicyclists may develop IT band inflammation should they have improper posture on their bike and "toe in" when they pedal. The issue may be how the toe clips are aligned, forcing the foot to be internally rotated, toed in. This can cause the same effect as bowed legs, increasing the angle of the IT band as it crosses the knee and increasing the risk of inflammation.
Other activities with increased knee flexion can cause symptoms and include rowing and weight lifting, especially with excessive squatting.