I had a great question this weekend at a running forum in Grapevine. One of the runners had lateral knee pain that came and went with no obvious cause. She thought she had ITB (iliotibial band) syndrome (sounded like symptoms her friend told her about) but she had been doing stretching and icing with no avail. What else could she do? Is it possibly from her shoes? Is rest enough?
Let’s talk about ITB syndrome.
The most common cause of lateral knee pain in runners is ITB syndrome, related to repetitive friction of the band sliding over the lateral femoral epicondyle as the knee flexes and extends.
Runners may complain of a sharp or burning pain about 2 cm superior to the lateral joint line (above the outside of your knee); exam may reveal tenderness to palpation there. Swelling and redness are usually not present unless it is severe.
Runners who are predisposed to this injury are typically overtraining. They often have underlying hip abductor muscle weakness; leg-length discrepancies may contribute to ITBS. They also have been found to have either a really high arched foot (cavus foot type) or an extremely flexible flat foot.
Acute phase treatment includes relative rest, ice, and anti-inflammatories. Physical therapy modalities like ultrasound and e-stim can also be helpful to break the inflammation cycle. In cases of severe pain or swelling, corticosteroid injections may be used.
During the subacute phase, stretching of the ITB is emphasized, along with soft-tissue therapy for any myofascial restrictions. Orthotics and shoe gear changes are also often indicated. Many patients actually are running in too heavy or too stabilizing shoes, especially if they have a cavus foot type.
The recovery phase focuses on a series of exercises to improve hip abductor strength and integrate movement patterns.
The final return to running phase is begun with an every-other-day program, starting with easy runs and avoidance of hill training, with a gradual increase in frequency and intensity. Remember: too much, too soon, too fast is what got you hurt in the first place!
Rest alone is usually not enough! This can be a painful chronic injury. Surgery can be considered in refractory cases, but this is rarely indicated.
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