Top 7 Exercises for the Runner’s Knee (IT Band Syndrome)

Injuries and overuse syndromes are common in runners and can quickly take the fun out of exercise. One of the most frequent problems runners face is the runner’s knee, also known as the IT band syndrome. Here are the seven best exercises for preventing and treating this common runner’s ailment.

What is runner’s knee (IT band syndrome) and how does it develop?

This problem occurs when the iliotibial band (IT band), which runs along the outside of the thigh, rubs against the knee joint. When you run, you constantly bend and straighten your knee joint. If your leg is turned slightly inward due to improper form, rubbing occurs. This friction can lead to tightening or inflammation of the fascia of the IT band. This explains why IT band syndrome starts out as a dull ache, but over time turns into a stabbing pain on the outside of the knee. This can make simple things like climbing stairs or even walking very painful. It can also put a quick end to your running training.

Improper running technique and worn-out shoes are not the only causes of IT band syndrome. A lack of strength in the stabilizing muscles of the foot, knee and hips can also lead to this injury. The weak muscles cannot provide the stability needed during the initial contact and take off. Regular cross-training can help to prevent imbalances and avoid developing an overuse injury.

Check out this article for extra advice on how to improve your running technique when suffering from runner’s knee (IT Band Syndrome).

What should I do when IT band syndrome occurs?

If you are experiencing pains like those described above, stop running for the next 10-14 days. Give your body and your knee a good rest. You can focus on recovering and build up strength in your stabilizing muscles with a targeted workout: the most important muscles to strengthen are your core, hips and glutes. The right balance of mobility and stability is essential for relieving the stress on your IT band.

You can and should, of course, do the workout below to prevent problems before they occur. Doing specific exercises two or three times a week can help avoid muscle weaknesses and imbalances.

7 effective exercises to help with IT band syndrome

The following seven exercises offer you an ideal combo —  they reduce muscle tension, improve flexibility and strengthen your stabilizing muscles. You can do them as a separate injury-prevention workout or as part of your recovery routine if you are forced to take a break from running for a while. Afterward, you should be able to continue with your running training pain free. Take 30 minutes a day to work on correcting the imbalance in these typically weak areas.

1. Release: Reduce Muscle Tension

Exercise 1 – Trigger Release with Ball

Starting position: Hurdler stretch with your knee bent at a 90° angle.

How to perform the exercise: Position a trigger point ball or a lacrosse ball under the outside of your thigh muscle. Search for the spot in your muscle with the most tension. Now increase the pressure on the ball and slowly rub the tense area in a star pattern. This area should start to hurt less after a while.

Duration: 60-90 seconds per point and side

Exercise 2 – Lateral Quad Roll

Starting position: Lie on your side. Position a foam roller under the thigh of your bottom leg and cross your top leg over with your foot on the floor in front of you.

How to perform the exercise: Roll the muscle slowly at an even pace starting from the knee and working your way up to the hip. Avoid rolling directly over tendons and ligaments so as not to place unnecessary stress on them.

Duration: 60-90 seconds per point and side.

2. Stretching: Increase Flexibility

Exercise 1 – Supine Scorpion

Basic Version

Starting position: Lie on your back.

How to perform the exercise: Using your left hand pull your right knee to the left and try to push your knee to the floor. Your knee should form a 90° angle between your upper and lower leg. Now reach your right arm up and to the right. You should feel the stretch on the outside of your thigh.

Advanced Version

How to perform the exercise:Starting from the basic version, now extend your right leg and thus increase the intensity of the stretch on your thigh muscle.

Duration: 60-90 seconds per side

Exercise 2 – Pigeon Pose

Basic Version

Starting position: Start on all fours.

How to perform the exercise: Bring your right knee forward through your arms as far as you can and place your knee on the mat. The lower part of your right leg should be slightly open, so that your thigh is not resting on your calf. Make sure to keep your foot flexed. Your left leg should rest comfortably extended behind you and your left hip should be tilted slightly to the right. Now raise your torso until your back is straight and adjust your center of gravity so you feel a comfortable stretch on the outside of your thigh.

Advanced Version

How to perform the exercise: Starting from the basic version, stretch your arms forward and lower your torso toward the floor. This will increase the intensity of the stretch.

Duration: 60-90 seconds per side

3. Performance: Build Stability

Exercise 1 – Single Leg Squat Front and Back

Starting position: Stand on one leg. Put your weight onto your right leg and extend your left leg out straight in front of you and low to the floor.

How to perform the exercise: Squat down and try to keep the knee as stable as possible. Hold this position for a few seconds and then push back up to the starting position. (Picture 1)

Now extend your left leg straight out behind you and low to the floor. Squat down while once again keeping your knee stable and then push back up to the starting position. (Picture 2)

Duration: 3 x 10 repetitions per side

Exercise 2 – Single Leg Bridge with Resistance

Starting position: Lie on your back. Place your feet hip-width apart. Now lift your hips up and assume the shoulder bridge position.

How to perform the exercise: Now put your weight on your left leg and pull your right knee up towards your chest with your hands under the knee joint. Push your leg against your hands to apply resistance. Keep your hips square and then slowly reduce the tension. Let your hips sag and then lift them up high again.

Duration: 3 x 10 repetitions per side

Exercise 3 – Clam Shells with Miniband

Starting position: Lie on your side. Position a miniband between your knee and thigh and bend your knees slightly.

How to perform the exercise: Stabilize your body with your right arm on the floor and then open your knees like a clam. Pull the band apart slowly but firmly and try to engage your hips and core muscles. Let the band pull your legs back together (with control) and then repeat the movement again.

Duration: 3 x 10 repetitions per side

As soon as you are pain free for about 10 days, you can try an easy test run. You should keep it short and make sure to warm up well. You can find useful tips and stretches for warming up in this blog post. It’s best if you run your test run on a treadmill or do a short, flat loop. This way you can stop at any time if the pain should return again. If everything goes well, you can slowly increase the distance per day. Here you can find some more tips on how to bounce back from a break in your training.



Sascha Wingenfeld Sascha, health trainer & active triathlete, has been coaching runners from beginners to professionals for over 10 years. "I love my job and I love running." View all posts by Sascha Wingenfeld »