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Brian Schiff’s Blog

Injury Prevention, Sports Rehab & Performance Training Expert

Tag: IT Band Syndrome

I work with lots of runners, both recreational and competitive, who are seeking to improve performance or overcome injuries. The most common issues I see are iliotibial band syndrome (ITBS) and patellofemoral knee pain (PFP).  With every runner, I routinely perform FMS and video analysis to get a better understanding of their movement patterns, gait mechanics and asymmetries.

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Without question, they tend to ask me if there is a better way to run.  Obviously, every accomplished runner has his/her own opinion on the matter.  Some prefer forefoot or midfoot strike, while other do just fine with a heel strike pattern.  In essence, we do not have any sound research or biomechanical evidence to declare one a winner.  Since I work with many injured runners, I am always seeking to find the most efficient ways to reduce injury risk and eliminate pain.

A paper just published in the September 2015 American Journal of Sports Medicine by Boyer and Derrick sought to answer the question of how shortening the stride length or altering foot strike pattern may impact certain variables.  Specifically, the authors sought to compare step width, free moment, ITB strain and strain rate, and select lower extremity frontal and transverse plane kinematics when stride length was shortened 5% and 10% in habitual rearfoot and habitual mid-/forefoot runners using both strike patterns while shod.


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I am pleased to announce that my new e-book on overcoming knee injuries and maximizing running performance is now available!  As someone who has run 4 half-marathons, a full marathon and several 5Ks, I know firsthand how frustrating an injury can be. Perhaps worse than the injury itself, is the fear of re-injury when every step brings trepidation in the back of your mind that the same pain could come back at any moment.

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Over the course of my fitness and therapy career, I have worked with hundreds of runners ranging from beginners to competitive runners.  Many have been sidetracked by anterior knee pain and IT Band Syndrome.  While there is no way to prevent all injuries, I have found that learning to assess the body and incorporate corrective strategies to eliminate asymmetries and imbalances along with proper conditioning allows individuals to run faster, longer and relatively injury free.

Up to 50% of all lower extremity injuries with runners involve the knee.  I have been working on a manual that summarizes my approach to injury prevention, rehab and training for runners.  You see, many people are not really fit to run when they start running. If more people knew how to detect potential issues and train adequately to prepare their bodies to run, injury rates would decrease and performance would subsequently increase.

As such, I wrote Fit For Running: Overcome Knee Injuries and Maximize Performance.  This 70 page e-book covers assessment, stretching, strengthening, soft tissue mobilization, plyometric training and injury recovery guidelines.  It focuses on preparing the human body for optimal performance – a manual for physical readiness if you will.  It is perfect for runners of all ages and abilities, running coaches and fitness trainers working with runners.

While my book aims to target knee pain, it really offers considerable knowledge and insight that would help a runner with any overuse injury. Given the proportion of knee injuries, I chose to focus the injury/rehab portion of the manual on this topic.

Click Here to download a free sample and learn more about this great new resource.

Every year I like to look back and reflect on things I have learned, things I have changed my mind about and of course clinical pearls that stand out.  Over the past year, I have been sharpening my IASTM skills, begun to practice dry needling techniques, and scrutinizing my hip and core exercises that I routinely use in rehab.

I look forward to sharing more about my clinical experiences with dry needling in 2014, but I feel the most critical and recurring theme of 2013 has been the overwhelming impact I have seen poor ankle dorsiflexion have on my patients.  I treat scores or runners, triathletes and clients with knee pain.  The most common issues in this group of clientele tends to be IT band friction syndrome or patellofemoral pain.

When I assess this group of patients, I routinely find the following:

  1. Poor dorsiflexion
  2. TFL dominance
  3. Glute weakness

Any time I evaluate a runner, I assess closed chain dorsiflexion (DF) mobility.  This can be assessed in half kneeling on the floor or standing at a wall.  I suggest removing the shoes during the assessment to eliminate any rise from the heel in the shoe that may bias the movement.  In addition, I hold the ankle in subtalar neutral to get a true assessment without allowing pronation.

The image below simply demonstrates the assessment position as well as the corrective exercise that can be used to facilitate better motion.

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Clients should be able to attain about 5 inches of clearance beyond the toes without lifting the heel or relying on pronation to get there. I routinely see limited mobility, and more importantly almost 100% of the time I find asymmetry on the side of the affected knee.

I recently evaluated a 29 y/o active female client who does Crossfit 3x/week and likes to run.  She has not been running much due to chronic right lateral knee pain and medial calf pain.  Her goal is to get back to running half-marathons.  Upon evaluation, her overhead squat assessment revealed pronation and external rotation bilaterally, right greater then left.  Her standing wall DF assessment revealed nearly a 1 inch deficit on the right side (about 3 inches), while her left side was 4 inches.

Below is how she looked on the treadmill video analysis I performed:

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You can see the highlighted areas in the photo above.  She has a marked amount of pronation in mid stance as well as left pelvic drop due to poor gluteal activation.  The poor hip stability and activation on the right side also plays directly into TFL dominance with the repetitive femoral internal rotation and adducted position of her right hip..

This poor biomechanical chain is set into motion by poor dorsiflexion mobility.  Runners can get away with this for shorter distances (3-4 miles) in many cases, but increased mileage leads to shin splints, calf strains, IT friction syndrome and patellofemroal pain.  You can see how this poor kinetic chain movement leads to ongoing microtrauma and eventually debilitating pain and dysfunction.  No matter how much one rests, going back to higher mileage will yield the same result.

In my client’s case, she also had a trigger point in her medial soleus – another issue connected with the ankle mobility problem. Her primary treatment plan will focus on soft tissue mobilization for the gastroc/soleus complex, TFL/ITB and glutes/piriformis, ankle dorsiflexion mobility exercises, IASTM to her gastroc/soleus/Achilles, single leg balance and strengthening and hip/core activation and stability work.

I am confident all of this will effectively resolve her pain.  However, it all begins with restoring ankle mobility.  They say a picture is worth a thousand words.  I strongly believe the picture I included of my client on the treadmill speaks volumes as to how poor ankle mobility can lead to unwanted compensatory motion, gluteal inhibition and overuse injuries.  The take home message here is be sure to assess ankle mobility in the presence of any lower extremity pain or dysfunction as it is often a critical piece of the puzzle in the face or recurring injury and chronic pain.

So, a very common issue I see in runners is iliotibial band (ITB) syndrome.  In a nutshell, it involves excessive rubbing or friction of the ITB along the greater trochanter or lateral femoral epicondyle.  It is more common along the lower leg just above the knee and typically worsens with increasing mileage or stairs.

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The ITB is essential for stabilizing the knee during running.  Several factors may contribute to increased risk for this problem:

  • Muscle imbalances (weak gluteus medius and deep hip external rotators)
  • Uneven leg length
  • High and low arches
  • Increased pronation leading to excessive tibial rotation = friction of the band
  • Improper training progression
  • Faulty footwear
  • Poor running mechanics
  • Limited ankle mobility (specifically dorsiflexion)
  • Tightness in the tensor fascia latae (TFL) and glute max

Related information on this topic include a 2010 study published in JOSPT on competitive female runners with ITB syndrome:

Click here to see the abstract of the study

Click here to read an earlier blog post analysis of the above research article

Common signs and symptoms include stinging or nagging lateral knee pain that worsens with continued running.  Hills and stairs may further aggravate symptoms.  Some runners even note a “locking up” sensation that forces them to stop running altogether.  How do I treat this?


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It is fairly well accepted in medical/rehab circles that much of the lateral knee pain felt by runners is related to the IT band.  Researchers report that frictional forces are greatest between 20 and 30 degrees of knee flexion (this occurs in the first part of stance phase with running).   But what about the differences in hip and knee kinematics between healthy and injured subjects?

I currently train two competitive female marathoners.  Both are in their thirties.  One has run Boston and the other is training with me to qualify this year (she missed by 36 seconds last year).  Many female runners deal with iliotibial band issues during their training.  My client trying to qualify for Boston has issues on her right side.  My other runner does not.  The client affected by this also has some ankle instability which certainly affects closed chain mechanics.

Historically, researchers have felt increased rear-foot eversion has contributed to such injuries.  Why?  well, increased rear-foot eversion leads to increased tibial internal rotation, and by the ITB’s attachment point distally on the tibia this would in turn increase strain.  In addition, it has been postulated that gluteus medius weakness leads to greater hip adduction moments and undue strain.

One recent prospective study done by Noehren et al. concluded that runners who developed ITBS exhibited increased hip adduction and knee internal rotation angles compared to healthy controls.  Today, I wanted to briefly update you on a study just published in the Journal of Orthopaedic and Sports Physical Therapy looking at the running mechanics of those with previous bouts of ITBS and those without.  The study observed 35 healthy female runners and 35 age matched runners (ages 18-45 who run no less than 30K/week) with a history of ITB issues.  They measured:

  1. Hip, knee and ankle kinematics
  2. Internal moments during stance phase

So, what did the results say?  In a nutshell, the ITBS group did in fact exhibit increased hip adduction angles and peak internal rotation angles at the knee.  There was , however, no significant difference among groups with respect to the rear-foot eversion.  This particular study did not measure hip abductor strength.

As far as limitations to the study, one primary one was the fact that the ITBS group was healthy during the study (meaning they had some time in the past suffered ITBS).  With that said, the results did mirror the prospective study by Noehren.

The practical takeaways for runners and trainers are:

  • Prior ITB issues may increase risk for recurrence due to increased strain
  • Prior ITB issues indicate atypical hip and knee kinematics may be present
  • The rear-foot position may have a lesser role in causation of ITBS
  • Addressing hip stability, strength and eccentric control is paramount to injury prevention
  • Observing frontal/transverse plane knee mechanics is prudent

In training, I recommmend video analysis or using a mirror independently to observe what I term a single leg hop and stick maneuver.  I teach it to all my cutting and impact athletes.  Simply begin on the left leg and hop forward onto the right and lower down into a lunge type single leg landing position.

Observe the foot/ankle, knee and hip as the body declerates.  This image and sequence of events leaves strong clues about the strength and force dissipation that is or isn’t happening.  Perform at least 3 trials and repeat on the other side.  This evalaution technique then also becomes a training tool to correct imbalances and improve deceleration mechanics – the very essence of the injury problem to begin with.

I routinely have my athletes with assymetrical or atypical kinematics engage in this drill no less than 2-3 times per week.  I have them perform 2-3 sets of 5-10 quality reps on each side (alternate sides).  Focus on preventing the femur from adducting too much or the patella moving inward.  In addition to this drill, obviously include steady glute max and medius work in your programs to help reduce ITBS.  With all that said, happy running!