Cycling & Iliotibial Band Syndrome


Cycling emphasizes use of the leg muscles, and the iliotibial band, or ITB, is a muscle that is at risk for injury and overuse. The iliotibial band is connective tissue originating from a muscle on the side of your hip, goes down the outside of the thigh, goes around the outside of the knee and attaches at the lateral side of the tibia, your shin bone. Iliotibial band syndrome is an overuse injury. With proper diagnosis and treatment, full rehabilitation is possible.

What is Iliotibial Band Syndrome?

Iliotibial band syndrome, or ITBS, occurs due to inflammation on the outside of the knee, says the University of Buffalo Department of Sports Medicine. It may also be called iliotibial band friction syndrome, or IBFS. This condition is caused by the band chronically rubbing over the part of the femur that attaches to the knee, irritating the band. Causes of this can include having a tight ITB, tight muscles in your leg, pelvis or hip and legs of different lengths, according to the University of Buffalo.

Cycling and the ITB

According to the University of Southern California, ITBS may be caused by cycling if the bike is not properly fitted to the athlete. This causes the legs to be strained or work harder, irritating the ITB. The repetitive motion of cycling may also contribute to irritating the band. Baptist Health Systems adds that cycling too quickly, overtraining and not warming up sufficiently prior to exercising can also cause ITBS.

Preventing ITBS in Cycling

Although you may not be able to change certain characteristics that may predispose you to ITBS, like being bowlegged or having a short ITB, there are things you can do to help reduce the risk of developing ITBS. The University of Southern California states that ways to lessen the possibility of developing this condition include learning the correct training techniques, using a bike that has been properly fitted to your body, increasing cycling distance slowly, warming up and cooling down sufficiently and strengthening the quadriceps and hamstrings.

Treatment for ITBS

If you develop ITBS, it is important to have it treated so it does not become worse. Until it is fully treated, your doctor or physical therapist may want you to refrain from cycling or exercising. Returning to activity too soon can lead to permanent damage. According to the University of Southern California, the treatment of ITBS will depend on the underlying cause, and can include rest, heating and/or icing, taking anti-inflammatory medications, stretching under supervision, learning correct cycling techniques to prevent injury, using orthotics, and in severe cases, surgery.