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.
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, and that’s probably why Karen thought it was “probably crap” after reading about ITBS here on PainScience.com.
But in fact I actually think straps do have some potential to help — just not for the reason given by Karen’s source. I’ve seen many such “mechanical” explanations of why straps work, and so it’s worth addressing here.
Clearly there is some confusion about just what, exactly, this product is supposed to do! Even the people who sell them tend not to understand why they might actually work. I assure you, whatever the mechanism of action might be, it is not mechanical. So the answer Karen got was definitely incorrect in my opinion, in at least two ways:
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.
The theory is that wearing the strap alters proprioception in the knee and often has a (slightly mysterious) benefit for various types of knee pain, including iliotibial band syndrome. This has been suggested by experimental results, so it’s not that far out.2Exactly 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 FootSmart.com 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.
In my experience, practically everyone who is shopping for knee straps would be better off learning more about iliotibial band syndrome first. But what to read? Who to ask? Right now you will get more than 123,000 search results when you Google for “iliotibial band syndrome.” Most are short, poorly written, and inaccurate.
They are of almost no use to you.
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 impossible to luck out and find one before your training schedule is blown to smithereens.
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 taken from just one of sections in the article.
Why pay for information? Because you get what you pay for. If you go with the free stuff, you’ll get a confusing mess of obsolete and inadequate information. If you pay a few bucks, you’ll get detailed, referenced, current information — and it may even be entertaining!
I do not offer a foolproof system for beating iliotibial band syndrome. 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.
Full access to the ITBS tutorial is available immediately for USD$1995. Click the “Buy Now” button to purchase access.
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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).BACK TO TEXT