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What is the Iliotibial Tract?

By Alex Terris
Updated May 17, 2024
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The iliotibial (IT) tract, sometimes known as the IT band, is a long piece of fibrous tissue that runs down the outer side of the leg. It starts on the outside of the hip and attaches to the outside of the shin beneath the knee. The purpose of the iliotibial tract is to keep the knee joint stable during activity. Despite being tissue rather than muscle, the iliotibial tract is often injured through repetitive strain, a condition which is known as IT band syndrome.

It’s common for the iliotibial band to be referred to as a muscle although it is actually just fibrous tissue. The fascia lata is a layer of tissue in the thigh that helps support the leg, and the iliotibial tract provides extra support for this tissue. Due to its length and attachment to both the knee and hip, the IT band is important during a number of physical activities.

On the outside of the hip, the iliotibial tract attaches to a muscle known as the gluteus maximus. It is also attached to the tensor fasciae latae, which is a small muscle at the top of the thigh. From there, the band runs down the side of the leg and inserts on the lateral, or outer, side of the tibia.

The primary purpose of the iliotibial tract is to provide support to the outside of the knee. It also helps in knee extension, which is when the knee straightens, and hip abduction, where the hip is moved out to the side. These movements are common everyday activities, which is why the tract can be prone to injury.

A common injury is IT band syndrome, which occurs when a portion of the iliotibial tract becomes inflamed and painful. This often occurs due to activities such as running, as the band sometimes rubs over a bone in the knee. Over time, this can cause inflammation. IT band syndrome can be a frustrating injury, as it sometimes takes a long time to heal and may return if the underlying problem goes unaddressed.

Treatment for inflammation of the iliotibial tract usually starts with rest. Running or similar forms of exertion can aggravate the injury and increase the time taken for recovery. As noted, since the iliotibial tract isn’t a muscle, it technically can’t be stretched. There are, however, exercises which can be helpful in strengthening the band in a similar way. Self massage of the band can also help to reduce friction.

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Discussion Comments
By honeybees — On Oct 31, 2011

My son is a runner and has participated in several marathons. While I think running is good for you, I think it has also taken a toll on his body as his feet pound the pavement every day.

He has also had his share of injuries and this includes some leg and knee pain that is a result of injuring his iliotibial tract.

Because of this, he has to do iliotibial band exercises on a regular basis to prevent further injury and allow him to run on a regular basis.

I keep hoping he will find a way to exercise that is not so hard on his body, but he seems to still be pretty addicted to running at this point.

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