Trail Runners Should Know About IT Band Syndrome

Trail Runners Should Know About IT Band Syndrome

The joys of trail running are hard to ignore. It helps you stay in shape, does wonderful things for your cardiovascular system, gets you into the great outdoors, turns exercising into an adventure, keeps your weight down, and gives you an emotional and mental health boost. As the cliché goes: It’s hard to argue with that.


On the other hand, well, it’s risky. Running on a trail increases the risk of a sprain, strain, or twisted knee or ankle enormously compared with the option of running on a surface such as roads or tracks, where your footing is almost guaranteed.


Trail running can take you far from a convenient water source, and staying hydrated is essential any time you run – in hot weather or cold. Not to be too cute, but it’s also harder to get lost on an oval track than it is on some remote mountain trail. More seriously, help is closer if you get injured on a track versus a mountaintop.

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What is IT band syndrome?


A common ailment of trail running is called iliotibial band syndrome or IT band syndrome. This is the name of a thick band of tissue that connects to the top of the shinbone and the hip. You can guess from its location that this band is intimately involved in walking and running activities. You might also notice that the band runs past the knee, which is an area of concern. When the band gets tight, it can rub against the outside of the knee. When it does that, it can become inflamed and very painful.

Symptoms of IT Band Syndrome Include:


  • Knee pain that occurs during or after running. 
  • Pain centered on the outside of the knee
  • Tenderness due to inflammation – often with redness of the skin
  • The painful area may be warm to the touch
  • A sense of some tissue snapping into place as you extend the knee


Treatment for IT Band Syndrome


For severe cases of IT Band Syndrome, arthroscopic surgery may be recommended. However, most often, IT Band Syndrome can be treated effectively with anti-inflammatory medication, mild to prescription pain medication, and rest, including heat and ice therapy.

As always, however, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and this applies to IT Band Syndrome. Here are some tips to help you avoid IT Band Syndrome on the tail.


  • Stay away from steep trails and run on the moderate slopes. If you think you will be running on steep terrain, you should start at gentle slopes and allow your muscles and ligaments to stretch before you tackle the more difficult slopes.
  • For your cardiovascular system and your knee health, it is best to alternate the level of difficulty. Heart health is promoted by elevating your heart rate, but studies show that the intensity of your exercise should vary from mild to harder and back again for best results. 
  • Don’t forget to stretch before you run. Of course, this rule applies to any form of strenuous physical activity. Muscles, ligaments, and connective tissue work best when they are warmed up and stretched to increase flexibility.


For an appointment


For an appointment, call pain management doctors San Diego Pacific Medical Care at 619-333-8114, located in downtown San Diego.

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