Managing IT Band Syndrome


One of my chronic hiking health issues is IT Band Syndrome. It flares up when I carry a heavy backpack for long distances and is one of the main reasons why I try to keep my pack as lightweight as possible.

The IT Band (also called the Illiotibial Tract) is a length of tissue on the outside of your thigh that extends from the pelvis over the hip to the top of the tibia just below the knee. Poke your outer thigh and you can feel it. It helps to stabilize your knee when you walk or run. When your IT Band gets tight, it rubs against the outer knuckle of your knee and gets inflamed which can be quite painful.

The reasons for IT Band Syndrome vary from individual to individual and can be due to overuse, anatomical issues such as poor arches in your feet,  over-pronation, or muscle imbalances between your legs. It’s a difficult syndrome to cure completely, but there are ways to manage the condition such as regular stretching, massage therapy, or using a foam roller to keep the IT Band loose.

So when I caught a twinge of ITBS two weeks ago on a hike with my heavier winter pack, I immediately scheduled a 45 minute massage to loosen it up. With winter hiking season starting up, the last thing I want is to be suffering from leg pain.

My masseuse, Lana the Russian, strongly recommended (more like commanded) that I suck it up and use a foam roller to loosen up my IT band. I’ve tried this in the past, but it’s hard to stick with because it is so painful. Here’s a video that shows how to use a foam roller, minus the cougar screams and groans that normally accompany this process.

Last week, I used the foam roller on my IT Bands for 10 minutes every day. At first this hurt like hell, but it became more endurable after 3 or 4 days.

The proof in the pudding, however, is that I had no IT Band issues at all when hiking and snowshoeing this past weekend with  a heavy winter pack. I was greatly relieved by that. My plan, therefore, is to start using the foam roller as a part of my daily gym workout, every non-hiking day from here on out, year round.

Coincidentally, I met another hiker this weekend who has also started using the foam roller to control his ITBS. Unlike me, he did not take a break during the weekend and brought a foam roller along on our trip. Right after our hike, he was on the floor stretching his IT band on his roller in a public display of agony. Poor guy has it far worse than me, but he also reports an improvement using the foam roller.

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  1. I have to thank you for your posts about ITB. Earlier this year my knee was always hurting and I didn't know why- I just toughed it out on hikes. I read your post last spring and thought, "I bet that's my problem!" With some stretching, it's under control for me.

  2. Last year my IT band acted up while hiking on the Bruce. I hiked with that pain through the remaining three days of a five day hike. Needless to say, I was in agony when I got home. My therapist recommended a foam roller and I agree, it is quite painful to start and I was still in a lot of pain but I continued with it. As you progress it hurts much less and the benefit far outweighs the pain. I prepare my body pre hike with the foam roller to make sure both sides are nice and loose and have no more issues and roll when I get back from the hike. I admit rolling tight lactic filled muscles is not the best but it’s what keeps me hiking.
    Thanks for the post

  3. Hi all. In physio for IT band injury. Cause is aggressive start to biking season.Stretching and anti-inflammatory meds for 2 weeks. First time with this injury. It’s been a week today, getting the ok to bike in moderation. If you have had this injury please leave a comment. Thanks

  4. Just getting over my first bout of ITB. Took me 6 weeks. The roller and physio helped. Best tip is to give it 2-3 weeks rest. I tried coming back too soon and I think that delayed my recovery

  5. Was a constant hiker of 16 miles average, 3x a week, then X happened and i basically quit hiking. 3 days ago, I hit a steep 3.5 mile up/3.5 mile back hike, which is really nothing , and i was DIEING as soon as i started the descent:( the outside of both knees was KILLING me, so was a small area of my hip and a bit around the ankle area. Im 99% sure this is an ITB issue, but im still in doubt. Havent seen a dr yet, hoping it will subside. Did it happen because i didnt warm up and since i basically havent done jack for almost 3 years? Hoping this has nothing to do w bad skeletal alignment or foot problems:( IDK…i hope someone answers me here:(

  6. I’ve been doing a lot of walking lately with light day packs and have felt really good. This past weekend I walked the same routes but with a much heavier overnight pack and it didn’t take long before the outside of my quads began to hurt. I’ve had this same sensation on the AT before and just assumed it was just weak leg muscles.

    Does this sound like IT syndrome and if so, would rework with a roller really help in my situation?

    • Sounds like it and a roller will help, but I’d encourage you to also strengthen your glutes, gradually. Forward and reverse lunges will do the trick.

      • Why the glutes? The pains on the outside of my quads.

        Thank you for answering.

      • Because your illiotibial band is compensating for weak glutes. Strentgen them. Comes from too much sitting.

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