IT Band Syndrome (ITBS) is one of the most common injuries for runners, accounting for an estimated 8-10% of all running related injuries. However, ITBS is not limited only to runners, but can affect those engaged in other activities such as weight lifting, martial arts, and cycling or any activity that requires repetitive knee flexion and extension. Understanding what it is and how acupuncture can treat it may reduce the chances of ITBS sidelining your active lifestyle.
What is ITBS?
Essential for stabilizing the knee joint, your IT Band is a thick stretch of tissue that reinforces the muscles of the thigh, starting from the top of the hip to connect just below the outside of the knee joint. The lower portion of the IT Band runs below the knee joint passing over a bony “knob” on the femur referred to as the lateral epicondyle. Nerves and blood vessels that lie between the IT band and the knee joint at the level of this “knob” can become irritated and inflamed for several reasons:
• One explanation is that muscles in the area (called the tensor fascia latae) can become overly tight, shortening the IT Band and compressing it against the epicondyle.
• Other research has indicated that weakness of muscles in the hip and thigh allow for compression of the IT Band
• A third position maintains that the repetitive action of the IT Band passing over the lateral epicondyle is the culprit.
Symptoms of ITBS:
Regardless of the specific explanation, the result is typically stinging pain and swelling along the lateral side of the knee. The pain will usually start after running, once the muscles have warmed up, but can persist for hours to days following activity. Untreated ITBS can eventually become chronic resulting in thickened tissue at the knee joint. In addition, because we tend to modify our body posture in a way that reduces painful sensations, this can result in other structural imbalances and cause pain elsewhere, such as the ankles, hips and back. So it’s important to identify and treat ITBS before it progresses and causes further injury.
Acupuncture and ITBS:
The concept of acupuncture is based on the existence of channels that traverse and connect the entire body and, when in balance, maintain health and keep us pain-free. Given the location of ITBS pain, along with other signs and symptoms, an acupuncturist can determine the specific channels that are the most likely culprits of imbalance and pain.
In this case, when healthy, the involved channels allow the joints to remain strong, flexible and pain-free. When obstructed or otherwise not functioning properly, pain, stiffness and swelling develop.
Acupuncture can be extremely effective at restoring the proper function of the channels in the body to relieve the symptoms of ITBS.
During an appointment, an acupuncturist will first do an assessment to determine the exact nature of the current problem (such as the source of the pain) and to evaluate any pre-existing issues that may have increased the potential for ITBS to develop. This includes issues such as structural imbalances, lifestyle habits, or even diet. The acupuncturist will then determine a treatment strategy that will employ acupuncture needles and other supportive therapies to further enhance the treatment effect.
The number of treatments that may be needed to resolve ITBS or provide relief can vary based on considerations like the length of time the patient has suffered with ITBS, age, and other lifestyle factors. Your acupuncturist will generally provide you with a prognosis that includes an estimation of the number of visits needed using this and other relevant information in order to develop an effective treatment plan.
Most patients should expect to see some relief within 5-10 treatments, if not complete resolution. Continued work with an acupuncturist, especially during intensive training periods (such as preparing for a marathon), can help to minimize future flare-ups, or even prevent ITBS from developing in the first place!