Sensible advice for aches, pains & injuries

Do IT Band Straps Work for Runner’s Knee?

The science of knee straps for iliotibial band syndrome (runner’s knee)

updated (first published 2009)
by Paul Ingraham, Vancouver, Canadabio
I am a science writer and a former Registered Massage Therapist with a decade of experience treating tough pain cases. I was the Assistant Editor of for several years. I’ve written hundreds of articles and several books, and I’m known for readable but heavily referenced analysis, with a touch of sass. I am a runner and ultimate player. • more about memore about
Knee straps for iliotibial band syndrome are of questionable value.

Can a soft elastic strap make a difference? Possible. But probably not how you think…

Soft knee straps with velcro closures are often recommended for iliotibial band syndrome, a painful and common knee injury. Knee straps are intended to be worn just above the knee.1 But while it is clear that straps may have some therapeutic benefit, they are almost certainly not your best option for self-treatment of iliotibial band syndrome. In fact, they are near the bottom of the list!

On the bright side, they are also cheap and risk-free.

Read on to find out how straps are supposed to work, how well they work, and exactly what to buy and what to try.

Related Reading

Are straps “crap”?

Reader Karen McCullough wrote in to ask:

After reading your article, I thought the strap idea was probably crap. But another health care professional just told me that she’d done some research, and that the idea behind the strap was to loosen the iliotibial band on the pad of fat tissue by tightening the ITBS right above it. What do you think?

Karen McCullough, Whitewater, Wisconson

I’m such a debunker that I usually don’t have much nice to say about products like this. I’m also very skeptical about blaming pain on biomechanics.2 But in fact I actually think straps do have some potential to help — just not for the reason given by Karen’s source (and practically everyone else). There are many such “mechanical” explanations of why straps work.

Clearly there is some confusion about just what, exactly, this product is supposed to do for your knees. Even the people who sell them can’t get their story straight. But whatever the mechanism of action might be, it is almost certainly not mechanical. The idea Karen heard was wrong in at least two ways:

Other ways that a strap might help iliotibial band syndrome

Nevertheless, there is decent (albeit indirect) evidence that the strap can help! Joint function depends on extremely complex sensory input and motor output relationships. Exactly how we use our knee depends heavily on how our knee feels. The “feeling” of knee use is based on the “6th sense” of proprioception (see Proprioception, the True Sixth Sense), and involves an enormous amount of neurological data.

Wearing the strap alters proprioception in the knee and that often has a (slightly mysterious) benefit for various types of knee pain, including iliotibial band syndrome. This has been suggested by experimental results — it’s not that far out.3

And there’s another plausible neurological mechanism for relief: In chronic cases, pain may be caused as much by central sensitization4 as by any on-going problem with the tissue. There’s even interesting evidence that the stubbornness of the pain is a trait of the individual, rather than due to the state of the knee.5 The novel sensory input of the strap may force the nervous system to “reconsider” how the knee should feel. Exactly how we use our knee depends heavily on how our knee feels.

Anecdotally, I have certainly seen some signs that the strap is helpful, although your mileage will definitely vary. Some people get absolutely no results from it, while others seem quite strongly affected. But remember, this is a cheap and easy and risk-free intervention … which means that if there is the slightest evidence that it works, it is firmly in the “worth a shot” category of treatments! There is really no reason not to try it.

I recommend that you drop in on and pick their Pro-Tec Iliotibial Band strap for just $15 (USD). “One size fits most,” and they have a 120-day satisfaction guarantee, so you can return it if it doesn’t do the trick for you.

Instead of knee straps, maybe some learninatin’

Practically anyone shopping for knee straps would be better off learning more about iliotibial band syndrome first. But what to read? Who to ask? As usual for any topic, Googling for “iliotibial band syndrome” gets you an almost unbelievable number of results. Most are short, poorly written, and inaccurate.

Thanks to the misinformation explosion, myths and misconceptions about iliotibial band syndrome are even more widespread than they used to be, even among health care professionals.

Some health care professionals have taken the time to study ITB syndrome properly, of course. But it’s usually hard find one of them before your training schedule is blown to smithereens.

You get what you pay for

I have taken years of research and professional experience and put it all into a detailed, referenced article which will teach you basically everything there is to know about ITB syndrome. The information about straps offered above is excerpted from just one of sections in the article: thorough reviews of every plausible treatment options (and some implausible ones).

I do not offer a foolproof system for beating iliotibial band syndrome, because there is no such thing. But I know that you will understand this frustrating condition better than most health care professionals by the time you are done. It’s just like coming to my office and having a nice long conversation about it, where all your questions get answered.

Paul Ingraham
, Publisher


Full access to the ITBS tutorial is available immediately for USD$1995. Click the “Buy Now” button to purchase access.

read on any device, no passwords
refund at any time, in a week or a year
call 778-968-0930 for purchase help
  • Secure payment takes about 2 minutes. No password or login, delivery is instant, and get a full refund whenever. MORE
  • What do you get, exactly? A tutorial, book-length (54,000 words). Get free updates forever, read on any device, online or off, lend it out. MORE
  • Buy more & save 50%! Get a “boxed” set of all eight tutorials for great savings.MORE

Plus …

  • Free second tutorial! When you buy this tutorial, you will also get Save Yourself from Trigger Points and Myofascial Pain Syndrome! — a $1995 value. Muscles knots (trigger points) are actually not a critical factor in IT band pain rehab, but treating them is worthwhile. The trigger point tutorial is a valuable guide that everyone can benefit from.
read on any device, no passwords
refund at any time, in a week or a year
call 778-968-0930 for purchase help

What’s new in this article?

Miscellaneous minor improvements, repairs, and modernization. It had been at least 7 years since this article got some attention! Yoinks. 😮 Added brief discussion of the role of central sensitization.


  1. Below-the-knee straps probably have little relevance to iliotibial band syndrome: they are much more commonly recommended for different conditions, namely patellofemoral syndrome and jumper’s knee. BACK TO TEXT
  2. “Structuralism” is the excessive focus on causes of pain like crookedness and biomechanical problems. It’s an old and inadequate view of how pain works, but it persists because it offers comforting, marketable simplicity that is the mainstay of entire styles of therapy. For more information, see Your Back Is Not Out of Alignment: Debunking the obsession with alignment, posture, and other biomechanical bogeymen as major causes of pain. BACK TO TEXT
  3. Callaghan MJ, Selfe J, Bagley PJ, Oldham JA. The effects of patellar taping on knee joint proprioception. J Athl Train. 2002 Mar;37(1):19–24. PubMed #12937439. PainSci #57070.

    This article provides an important clue that may help to rationalize the use of a “Patt Strap,” “Cho Strap” or “iliotibial band syndrome strap,” and also suggests a possible mechanism for therapeutic effect on patellofemoral syndrome in particular, as well as other problems. This evidence suggests that proprioception is enhanced by patellar taping. From the abstract: “Subjects with good proprioception did not benefit from patellar taping. However, in those healthy subjects with poor proprioceptive ability ... patellar taping provided proprioceptive enhancement.” Ten years later, the same researchers demonstrated that brain activity is modulated by taping (see Callaghan 2012).

  4. Pain itself can change how pain works, so that patients with pain actually become more sensitive and get more pain with less provocation. For more information, see Central Sensitization in Chronic Pain: Pain itself can change how pain works, resulting in more pain with less provocation. BACK TO TEXT
  5. Neogi T, Frey-Law L, Scholz J, et al. Sensitivity and sensitisation in relation to pain severity in knee osteoarthritis: trait or state? Ann Rheum Dis. 2015 Apr;74(4):682–8. PubMed #24351516. PainSci #53256.

    In more than 2000 people with knee osteoarthritis, or at high risk for it, pain sensitization was associated with knee pain, but not the severity of the arthritis as seen on x-ray. In other words, neither pain nor sensitivity clearly correlated with the condition of their knee. This contradicted the researchers’ expectation that sensitization is caused by the duration and severity of arthritis. Instead, the results suggest that “sensitisation is in fact a ‘trait’ rather than a ‘state’, that is, that hypersensitivity was present before knee OA, related to an individual’s predisposition to sensitisation rather than being induced by peripheral nociceptive input [pain] from osteoarthritis.” Even more simply stated: people with knee pain have a problem with pain, not knees.