Runner’s Pain: How to Avoid a Common Overuse Injury

Runners can develop illiotibial band syndrome
runner jumping in the air

When you run, sharp pains or a burning sensation on the outside of the knee aren’t normal. If you’re experiencing these symptoms, you may have an overuse injury involving the illiotibial band (ITB). The ITB is a group of fibers along the outside of the thigh that help to stabilize the knee and hip when you run.

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Overuse can lead to pain and inflammation, or ITB syndrome, explains physical therapist Amanda Gordon, PT.

Research says that one out of four runners will develop ITB syndrome, which can be caused by:

  • Increasing your mileage too quickly.
  • Downhill running.
  • Weak hip muscles.
  • No warm-up before running.

How to prevent ITB syndrome

Gordon suggests that runners increase mileage by no more than 10 percent per week. In addition, they recommend walking for about five minutes before and after running.

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To help prevent ITB syndrome, here are three exercises that can strengthen your hips:

  1. Leg lifts
    Lie on your right side.
    Raise your left leg toward the ceiling and keep it straight.
    Repeat action on your left side, lifting your right leg.
  1. Clamshells
    Lie on your right side with both knees bent.
    Keeping your feet touching, lift your bent left leg toward the ceiling.
    Perform three sets of 10 repetitions per side, and gradually increase until you can do 30 repetitions without resting.
  1. Stretching
    Stand against a wall with your left leg closest to the wall.
    Cross your right leg in front of your left.
    Lean your left hip into the wall, using your upper body for support.
    Hold the stretch for 15 to 30 seconds and repeat three times.
    Repeat the action on your other side.

What to do if pain develops

If you feel ITB pain or discomfort, ice the area for 10 to 20 minutes and decrease your mileage.

Once you feel better, begin a stretching and strengthening program. You may also want to change your running habits. Run every other day, and go at a slower pace. You can also try alternating your running with an activity like biking or swimming.

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With these measures, ITB syndrome will usually resolve in about six weeks, says Gordon. But if pain continues, or increases in intensity, see your physician.

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