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The 8 best exercises for IT band syndrome to help kickstart your recovery

Woman needs exercise advice for her IT band syndrome.
Kim Van Deventer
Kim Van Deventer
Nov 9, 2023
Medically reviewed by
Maryke Louw
Need exercise advice for your IT band syndrome? This article is for you. Learn what exercises work, what to avoid, and how to do them right.

Exercises are vital for IT band syndrome recovery because they help address the underlying cause of your condition. But, what works for you, may not work for someone else. So, tailoring your exercises to your needs and goals is vital.

Experts often divide exercises for IT band syndrome into 3 categories according to their aims. These include:

  1. Reducing the tension in your IT band
  2. Improving your stability, strength, and movement patterns
  3. Progressively loading your IT band to prepare it for the demands of running

This article rounds up the best exercises to kickstart your IT band syndrome recovery by focusing on the first two categories.

Why should you do exercises for IT band syndrome?

IT band syndrome is usually caused (and aggravated) by your IT band being pulled too tight, which results in the compression of the band and structures beneath it.

Factors that can increase the pull on your IT band

1
Poor hip, knee, and ankle alignment
E.g., excessive internal rotation (turning in), adduction (pulling inwards), and pronation (rolling in)
2
Weakness or tightness in the muscles attached to it
Tensor Fascia Latae (TFL) and Glute Max muscles

Research shows that targeted exercises are the best way to address these factors.

What are the best exercises for IT band syndrome?

The most effective exercises for IT band syndrome rehab are those that can help reduce the pull on your IT band, which decreases the symptoms associated with IT band syndrome.

Broadly, these include exercises that:

  • Strengthen weak muscles
  • Stretch tight muscles
  • Improve your hip, knee, and ankle position

Next, we will show you 8 examples of frequently recommended exercises for IT band syndrome rehab.

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Hip strengthening exercises for IT band syndrome

The Clam

Benefits

  • Good starter exercise because it doesn't load the knee directly (helpful if your knee is still very painful)
  • Help strengthens the external hip rotators (turns the hip outwards)

Instructions

  1. Lie on your side.
  2. Bend your hips to about 60 degrees and your knees to 90 degrees.
  3. Tighten your core muscles to help stabilize your upper body and pelvis.
  4. Keep your knees bent and feet together, then lift your top knee up and away from the bottom one - so your leg opens like a clamshell.
  5. Pause for a moment, then slowly lower your knee back down.
  6. Aim to do 15 repetitions, but don’t force it. If this is difficult, do as many as is comfortable and add more repetitions as you get stronger.
  7. Rest for 60 seconds.
  8. Do 3 sets on each side.

Technique check

Ensure that your pelvis and hips don't roll backward as you lift your leg - the movement should be smooth, not jerky.

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How to progress

You can progress this exercise to doing the clam with a resistance band tied around your thighs, ensuring you keep it away from the painful area.

The Clam - Resisted

Woman performing a resisted clam as an exercise for it band syndrome.

Instructions

  1. Tie a resistance band around your thighs.
  2. Lie on your side.
  3. Bend your hips to about 60 degrees and your knees to 90 degrees.
  4. Tighten your core muscles to help stabilize your upper body and pelvis.
  5. Keep your knees bent and feet together, then lift your top knee up and away from the bottom one - so your leg opens like a clamshell.
  6. Pause for a moment, then slowly lower your knee back down.
  7. Aim to do 10 repetitions, but don’t force it. If this is difficult, do as many as is comfortable and add more repetitions as you get stronger.
  8. Rest for 60 seconds.
  9. Do 3 sets on each side.

Technique check

Ensure your pelvis and hips don't roll backward as you lift your leg - the movement should be smooth, not jerky.

How to progress

Later, you can make this exercise more functional, i.e., work in positions that resemble walking, running, and jumping positions.

Glute med squat

Woman performs a glute med squat as an exercise for IT band syndrome.

This exercise should only be started later in your rehab, once your knee has calmed down and you can do a regular squat pain-free.

Benefits

  • Build good glute and general leg strength
  • Help retrain optimal movement patterns

Instructions

  1. Stand with your legs close together, tie a resistance band around your knees, then separate your legs to hip-width apart.
  2. Turn your knees against the band's resistance, pointing them in line with the middle of your feet.
  3. Stretch your arms out in front of you - this will help you balance.
  4. Squat down by pushing your bottom out behind you (as if sitting on a chair) and bending your knees. Try to reach a 90-degree angle at your knees.
  5. Check that your feet don't roll in as you squat down and your knees move in line with the middle of your feet.
  6. Pause at the bottom of the movement and then return upright.
  7. Aim to do 15 repetitions, but don't force it. If this is difficult, do as many as is comfortable and add more repetitions as you get stronger.
  8. Rest for 60 seconds.
  9. Do 3 sets.

Technique check

The resistance band forces your glutes to work harder during this exercise. Ensure that your knees stay in line with the middle of your feet throughout the exercise.

Ankle strengthening exercises for IT band syndrome

Ankle exercises can help keep your ankle in a better position and prevent your foot and ankle from falling into excessive pronation (turning in). This helps keep your hip, knee, and lower leg in better alignment - reducing the pull on your IT band.

Resisted ankle inversion (with a band)

Resisted ankle inversion as an exercise for IT band syndrome.

Benefits

It increases ankle strength and stability because it trains your ankle muscles concentrically (while shortening) and eccentrically (while lengthening).

Instructions

  1. Attach an elastic band to a secure object and loop the elastic around the front of your foot.
  2. Keeping your knee still and your heel in contact with the floor, turn the sole of your foot inwards against the band’s resistance.
  3. Pause for a moment and then slowly return to the starting position.
  4. Do 10 repetitions.
  5. Rest for 60 seconds.
  6. Do 3 sets.

Technique check

Keep your knee still during the exercise.

Balancing on one leg

Women balancing on one leg as an exercise for IT band syndrome.

You should only do this exercise once you can stand on one leg pain-free because you may not be able to tolerate it in the early stages of your recovery.

Benefits

It trains your glutes, ankle, and foot muscles to keep your pelvis and hips level while controlling your foot and ankle position.

Instructions

  1. Stand and gently tense your core muscles, then shift your weight to one side.
  2. Lift your foot off the floor, keeping your pelvis level.
  3. Balance on one leg.
  4. Keep your foot as still as possible, not allowing it to roll in or out.
  5. Work on this until you can easily balance for 30 seconds.
  6. Switch legs and do the same on the other side.
  7. Repeat 3 times on each leg.

Technique check

Pay special attention to your foot arch and ankle position - try to keep your foot as still as possible, not allowing it to roll in or out. If you're struggling, place one finger on a table for support or bend your supporting knee slightly.

Stretches for IT band syndrome

The best stretches for IT band syndrome target the muscles attached to your IT band, which helps reduce any unnecessary pulling on it.

Figure-of-4 hip stretch

The Figure-of-4 stretch is an important exercise for it band syndrome.

Benefit

It stretches your gluteal muscles.

Instructions

  1. Lie on your back with both knees bent.
  2. Place the outside of your right ankle just above your left knee.
  3. Take hold of your left thigh with both hands, and pull it towards your chest.
  4. You can wrap a towel around your thigh if you struggle to reach it with your hands. Place a pillow under your head if you struggle to get your neck in a comfortable position.
  5. You will feel the stretch in your right buttock, thigh, or back depending on which part is the tightest.
  6. Hold the position for up to 30 seconds.
  7. Rest for 30 seconds (or stretch the other side).
  8. Repeat 3 times on each side.

Technique check

Wrap a towel around your thigh if you struggle to reach it with your hands. Be gentle during this exercise - you can injure yourself if you over-stretch.

Side stretch

Side stretch as a exercise for iliotibial band syndrome.

Benefit

It stretches your TFL and outer kinetic chain (the interconnected muscles and connective tissue on the outer side of your body).

Instructions

  1. Stand with your feet together.
  2. Lift your right arm toward the ceiling. You can lift your left arm up or let it hang by your side for added stability.
  3. Side bend to the left - reaching your right arm over.
  4. Pause at the end of the movement.
  5. Maintain the stretch for 10 to 30 seconds.
  6. Return upright and repeat on the other side.
  7. Do 3 repetitions on each side.

You can increase the stretch by crossing your right leg behind your left.

Hip flexor stretch with side bend

Hip flexor stretch with side bend is a good example for it band syndrome exercises.

Benefit

It stretches your outer quadriceps (front thigh) muscles.

Instructions

  1. Half kneel with one knee on a pillow and the other leg in front of you.
  2. Tilt your pelvis backward and push your hip slightly forward until you feel a stretch over the front of your hip and thigh.
  3. Now, raise your arm (on the side with the pillow) and reach it over your head.
  4. Next, bend your upper body sideways, away from the leg on the pillow.
  5. You should feel a stretch along the side of your body (trunk) and an increased stretch in the front of your groin and lower stomach.
  6. Keep your pelvis tilted backward throughout.
  7. Hold the position for up to 30 seconds.
  8. Then switch legs and stretch the other side.
  9. Repeat 3 times on each side.

Technique check

It's important to tilt your pelvis backward - if it tilts forward, you lose the effectiveness of the stretch.

Note:

The exercises listed above do not form a complete rehab plan. Rather, they’re intended to give you an idea of the variety of exercises (and progressions) that you can use to recover from IT band syndrome. As the research suggests, your exercises should always be tailored to you for the best results.

IT band syndrome: Exercise precautions

IT band exercise progressions

Besides choosing the right exercises and using the right technique, progressing your exercises correctly is also essential.

It's always best to start your exercises at the right difficulty level for you, then gradually progress them over time as you're able.

We’ve designed the IT band rehabilitation plan in the Exakt Health app to guide you through this process. It starts you off with exercises that don't load your knee directly (to allow it to heal), then gradually increases the intensity and load as your knee heals.

There are also other activities that can cause problems in your recovery. These include:

Repetitive knee bending and straightening with IT band syndrome

Your IT band compresses the side of your knee hardest when it's slightly bent (at about 30 degrees). This may explain why repetitive bending and straightening activities that work your knee at that angle often cause more pain when you have IT band syndrome.

Example: Squats

What to do: Only introduce these exercises later in your rehab process.

Strong IT band stretching

Stretches are essential in IT band syndrome treatment. But some stretch positions can increase the compression of your IT band on your outer knee, which may increase your pain.

Example: Side bending or side leg stretches (often called IT band stretches)

What to do: Gently ease into these stretches and avoid being too forceful with them.

Direct pressure on your IT band

Applying heavy pressure to the injured IT band area can irritate your injury and aggravate your symptoms.

Example: Resistance band exercises

What to do: Avoid placing resistance bands over the sore area. Instead, move them up or down your legs until they feel comfortably positioned.

More about IT band syndrome

Conclusion

It can be easier to recover from IT band syndrome when you know what exercises to do and how to do them correctly.

Hopefully, this article has helped you understand how to start your recovery and move forward, so you can start thinking about your next big race again.

The app provides tailored guidance and support to help you confidently progress through your rehabilitation plan. It aims to help you reach your goals effectively and make your recovery process smoother.

IT band syndrome icon.
Start your it band syndrome rehab now.
Download the Exakt Health app now.
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Kim Van Deventer
Kim Van Deventer
Kim Van Deventer is a freelance healthcare writer and digital content strategist for healthcare businesses and medical content agencies. She has a BSc in Physiotherapy and worked as a physiotherapist for more than 14 years, specialising in sports injury rehabilitation, chronic pain management, and women's health. Kim combines her clinical experience and digital marketing skills to create relevant and helpful content that improves patients' lives.
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