Activities like running, walking, and hiking can lead to iliotibial band syndrome; however, there are specific iliotibial band syndrome exercises that can help ease the discomfort and pain associated with the condition.
The ilotibial band is a thick tendinous fascia that is located on the outside of the hip. It extends to the side of the knee. When it becomes tight and inflamed, iliotibial band syndrome can occur. This syndrome causes pain along the side of the thigh and knee. Since the iliotibial band is shortened, it causes friction over the hip and/or knee joint, leading to inflammation.
People who are diagnosed with iliotibial band syndrome tend to want to rest. While some rest is good for recovery; exercise, including stretching, is important if you want to get back to normal activities.
Exercises and Stretches for Iliotibial Band Syndrome
The following list covers the best exercises for iliotibial band syndrome. If you have been diagnosed with iliotibial band syndrome, begin exercises slowly and stop if and when you feel pain.
Iliotibial band stretch
This is among the most popular iliotibial band exercises. You begin by leaning sideways against a wall. Hold onto a chair if you feel unsteady. Stand on one leg with the affected hip, making sure that the leg is close to the wall. Cross your other leg in front of it. Allow the affected hip to drop out to the side of your body and against the wall. At this point, you should lean away from your affected hip to feel a stretch. You can repeat this stretch two to four times.
For this exercise, you lie on your back with your legs out straight then lift your affected leg and bend your knee. Reach across your body and gently pull your knee toward your opposite shoulder. Hold the stretch for up to 20 seconds, release and repeat the exercise.
Hamstring wall stretch
Iliotibial exercise stretches often include work on the hamstring. For this exercise, you lie on your back in a doorway with your unaffected leg through the open door. Slide your affected leg up the wall and straighten your knee. You should feel a stretch down the back of your leg. Hold the stretch for up to one minute. When comfortable you can lengthen the time you hold the stretch.
IT band stretch
This ilotibial exercise stretch calls for you to support yourself against a wall with one hand. Place your right leg in front with your weight mostly on your left foot. You should use your left arm to stabilize yourself against the wall. Now take your right arm over your head and reach towards your left side so that you can feel a stretch in the IT band on your right side. Basically, your right arm forms an arch over your head. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds. Switch sides and repeat the exercise if you need to stretch the IT band on the other side.
Seated hip and ITB stretch
This is considered one of the better iliotibial band syndrome exercises because it doesn’t require any special props and gives an even stretch when performed properly. Here’s how you do this stretch: you sit on the floor with your legs extended out in front of you. Cross the affected leg over the other leg, bending your knee and placing your foot flat on the floor. Now rotate your body as if you need to look over your shoulder until you feel a stretch. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat a few more times.
Knee to opposite shoulder stretch
For this exercise, lie on your back and bend the knee of the affected leg. Grasp behind the bent leg’s knee with both hands and pull the leg forward toward the opposite shoulder. Hold for 30 seconds, relax and repeat up to four times.
Find a two–inch platform and step one foot on it. Tap the other foot down to the ground and then bring it up to join the other foot on top of the platform. Keep most of your weight on the supporting leg and perform 15 repetitions on one side by taking two–second taps down and two–second taps up. You can repeat on the other leg for 15 repetitions.
Single leg balances
Stand on one foot with the other leg lifted and extended out in front. Make sure your foot is flexed. Keep your hips aligned and hold steady for up to 90 seconds. Repeat on the other side.
Standing IT band stretch
This exercise is done by standing and crossing your right leg in front of your left leg. You press firmly on both feet, which should be about shoulder width apart. Lean to the right as far as you can and feel the stretch in the knee and hip. If you want to deepen the stretch, you can reach your arm over your head and hold for 30 seconds. Perform this stretch three times on each side.
Standing forward bend variation
Stand and cross your right ankle in front of your left then bend your knees slightly and fold forward, placing your hands on the floor or another stable surface. You can gain added resistance if you press your legs into each other. Hold this position for up to one minute and then do the same movement on the opposite side.
Wide–legged standing forward bend
This exercise starts from a standing position. You jump so that your feet are no wider than your shoulders and make sure your toes are turned in slightly and knees are bent a little. Hinge at the hips to fold yourself forward and drop your hands down towards the floor at the same time. Press into the outer edges of your legs to feel a stretch on the outside of your lower body. When ready, walk your hands to the right and turn your upper body to the right. Place your hands on the outside of your right leg. Hold for up to 15 seconds and then repeat the exercise on the left side. You can do each side a few times.
Low lunge variation
Do a low lunge with your right foot in front of your left knee. Put your right hand on your right thigh and stretch your left arm over to the right. You should feel a stretch in the outer left hip. Try holding the position for up to 30 seconds and then repeat it on the opposite side.
Lie on your back on the floor with your right leg extended and then draw your left knee into your chest. The next step is to pull the knee across your body to feel a stretch in the buttocks and outer hip. Hold for about 30 seconds before doing the opposite side. You should try doing two or three of these on each side.
This iliotibial exercise requires you to stand sideways on a step. Your left leg should hang off the edge. Keep your right leg straight while lifting up your left hip then drop the left leg back down. You can continue this movement for 10 to 15 repetitions and then do the opposite side.
Standing on a step with one foot, extend the opposite foot out in front of you. Now, slowly squat down. Return to the starting position. Do two to three sets of 15 or 20 repetitions to gain the full benefits of this iliotibial exercise.
Side plank pose
To come into a plank pose you begin on the floor on your hands and knees. Use your feet and hands to help lift your torso up off the ground. Once you are in this position, you can press into your left arm as you roll your right. Place your ankles on top of each other for support and put your right hand on your right hip to extend your arm up toward the ceiling. You can then try lifting your right leg as high as you can. Hold for up to one minute and then switch to the opposite side.
Side leg abduction
This exercise involves lying on your side with the affected leg on top. Once positioned this way, straighten your top leg and bring your toes toward you, as you press through your heel. Remember to engage your abdominals and keep your bottom leg slightly bent to help you with balance. Slowly lift the top leg up and slightly back. Return to the starting position and do at least two sets of 10 repetitions before you do the same on the opposite side.
Lie on your side with your knees bent. Make sure your affected leg is on top. Your lower arm can lay under your head. Put your top hand on your top hip and engage your abdominals. Now, you can slowly lift your top leg, keeping your feet together. Lift as high up as you can without pain and then return to the starting position and repeat the exercise.
Exercises to Avoid for Iliotibial Band Syndrome
If you have iliotibial band syndrome, you should stop participating in any activity that is causing symptoms. This can mean not running, not cycling, and avoiding long flights of stairs. When the IT band heals, it is important to ease back into activities slowly, so you don’t experience a relapse.
Professional athletes are prone to iliotibial band syndrome but just about anyone can get IT band syndrome. These iliotibial band exercise stretches can make a huge difference in how quickly you recover and get back to your normal level of activity. Before doing exercises for iliotibial band, it is best to talk to your doctor. Some of the exercises outlined here may be too aggressive and you don’t want to worsen your pain.