Treatment for iliotibial band syndrome
The initial treatment for iliotibial band (ITB) syndrome aims to reduce your pain and the inflammation causing it. You can do this with rest, ice and medicines to reduce pain and inflammation. Further treatment includes stretching exercises and then strengthening exercises to gradually get you back to your usual activities. Most people return to their sport or running within four to six weeks.
You may find it helpful to see a sports medicine professional, such as a physiotherapist or a sports doctor. They will be able to diagnose and treat ITB syndrome. Your GP may be able to refer you, or you may be able to book an appointment with a physiotherapist directly.
It’s important that you stop doing the activity that brings on your pain. If you’re only getting mild pain, you may just be able to reduce your activity. For instance, stopping running before the time or distance when you normally get the pain. If your pain is more severe though, you should stop altogether. You can keep active by doing exercise which doesn’t bring on pain, such as swimming.
When you first develop ITB syndrome, it can help to apply ice or a cold compress to the painful area. Try applying it for 15–20 minutes at a time, every two to three hours. Don’t apply ice directly to your skin as it can give you an ‘ice burn’ – place a cloth between the ice and your skin.
Making sure you follow any physiotherapy and rehabilitation programme you’re given will be an important part of your recovery. Your physiotherapist will carefully assess your knee and plan an individual programme of rehabilitation exercises to help strengthen your knee and leg muscles gradually.
Treatment usually involves manual techniques and stretching exercises at first. Your physiotherapist may suggest you try using a foam roll as part of a home exercise programme to help reduce your pain. You’ll then usually need to follow some specific strengthening exercises to help you recover. Finally, your physiotherapist will advise you on how to make a gradual return to your normal activity. Your physiotherapist may also give you some advice on how to try to prevent the problem coming back. They may advise you about changing your footwear to correct problems with your foot movement or look at your running gait on a treadmill.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, can help to ease your pain and reduce inflammation and swelling. You can buy ibuprofen over the counter. Your doctor may also be able to prescribe stronger NSAIDs if you need them. Always read the patient information that comes with your medicine, and if you have questions ask your pharmacist or GP for advice.
Your GP may recommend that you have a corticosteroid injection into the inflamed area if you have severe pain or swelling. This is unlikely to resolve your pain completely, but may give you enough pain relief to be able to continue with physiotherapy and rehabilitation.
Surgery is not usually used as a treatment for iliotibial band (ITB) syndrome. Your doctor will only offer you surgery in very rare cases, where other treatments have failed.