5 Things Cyclists Need To Know About Iliotibial Band Syndrome

Posted on: 3 November 2015


Riding your bike is a great way to keep fit and have fun, but if you overdo it, you could suffer from overuse injuries like iliotibial band syndrome. Iliotibial band syndrome, also called iliotibial band friction syndrome, is a common knee injury that can derail your training goals. Here are five things you need to know about this painful injury.

How does cycling cause this injury?

The iliotibial band is a fibrous tissue that connects your hip bones to your lower leg bones. This tissue plays many important roles. It helps you extend or rotate your hip, and it also helps to stabilize your knee when your leg is straight or when it is bent.

Your iliotibial band helps you pedal your bike, but on a long-distance ride, the iliotibial band can get damaged. The frequent loosening and tightening of the iliotibial band leads to compression of the tissue deep within the band. The resulting inflammation leads to iliotibial band syndrome.

What are the signs of iliotibial band syndrome?

If you have iliotibial band syndrome, you'll experience pain on the side of your knee. Like other overuse injuries, the pain will be mild and first and will only be present while you're cycling. You won't feel pain while you're at rest. This pain needs to be taken seriously, even though it doesn't last long, so make sure to see your doctor if your knees hurt while you're cycling.

If you keep cycling without seeking treatment, the injury will get worse. At this point, you'll feel knee pain all of the time, even when you're resting. The pain may radiate out of your knee and into your calf or thigh. Every day activities like walking or standing can become difficult, or even impossible.

How is it treated?

If you are diagnosed with iliotibial band syndrome, your doctor may recommend starting with non-surgical treatments. Non-surgical treatments may involve the R.I.C.E. (rest, ice, compression, elevation) method that athletes are already familiar with. If your doctor tells you to rest, make sure that you do it because continuing to ride your bike can make your injury worse.

In addition to R.I.C.E. therapy, your doctor may recommend using medications like corticosteroids or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. The former works by reducing inflammation and the latter can help you deal with both your pain and your inflammation.

If further treatment is required, your doctor may refer you to a physiotherapist. A physiotherapist can lead you through stretching and strengthening exercises that can ease your symptoms and allow you to heal. Your physiotherapist may also suggest changes to your cycling technique that will cause less aggravation to your iliotibial band.

If non-surgical treatments fail, you may need to have surgery. Surgery is a last-resort treatment and involves excising the tissues from around the inflamed iliotibial band.

How common is iliotibial band syndrome?

Iliotibial band syndrome is a common injury among cyclists. It's reported to make up 15% of all overuse knee injuries.

How can you prevent this injury?

There are a few things that you can do to prevent iliotibial band syndrome. Make sure to warm-up and stretch your muscles before you start a long bike ride and avoid adding distance to your rides too quickly. If you are wearing worn-out cycling shoes, or shoes that aren't designed for cycling, purchase new shoes that are suited to your sport.

Having your bike seat professional adjusted may also be helpful. If your seat is too high or too far back, you will need to stretch out your knees too much when you push down on the pedals, and this can put strain on the iliotibial band.

If your knee hurts when you ride your bike, see a doctor like Friedrich Tomas J MD.