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What is the Iliotibial Band?

By Alex Terris
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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The iliotibial band, commonly called an IT band, is a fibrous tissue that rounds down the lateral side of the thigh from the hip to the knee. The purpose of the iliotibial band is to provide support for the knee and allow for greater stability during movements such as running or walking. It attaches beneath the knee and is a common cause of knee pain amongst runners and cyclist. This is called iliotibial band syndrome and is the result of the band rubbing over the lower part of the knee.

The iliotibial band works in conjunction with other thigh muscles such as the tensor fasciae latae in order to increase stability and allow for controlled movement of the knee joint. For this reason it’s an essential part of many daily activities. This is one of the reasons why an injury to the IT band can be difficult to solve.

The band of tissue attaches to the hip bone as well as the fascia latae muscle. From this point it goes down the side of the leg and attaches to the tibia. The IT band is most active during movements that straighten the knee joint.

Although the IT band is sometimes considered to be a muscle, it’s actually just a band of tissue and hence cannot be stretched in the same way that muscles can. It can, however, be lengthened by stretching the muscles that directly attach to it. Massage of the band itself may also help to remove any build-up of scar tissue.

Iliotibial band syndrome is a common injury for athletes and is a result of repeated friction. During some movements the IT band comes into contact with the lateral epicondyle of the femur. In some cases, repeated movements that result in this friction will cause the tissue to become inflamed which can cause pain.

The primary symptom of iliotibial band syndrome is pain on the lateral side of the knee although this can sometimes be felt in other locations around the patella. People who suffer from this injury usually find that the pain is made worse by doing activities which put the IT band under repeated stress such as running. There will also sometimes be some tenderness around the area of injury.

To begin with treatment of iliotibial band syndrome focuses on rest. Ice may also be applied to help reduce swelling. Once the initial injury has settled stretching of the muscles around the IT band can help to reduce the pain.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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