The Iliotibial band, or as it’s more commonly referred to as – The IT Band.
There seems to be a lot of confusion about the dos & don’ts with treating the IT band, but my biggest bug-bear with clients *coughs* runners *coughs* is when they’re insistent on foam rolling their IT band and inflicting unnecessary pain on themselves! Allow me to explain…
First things first, the IT band is not a muscle, it’s a band of connective tissue connecting the Hamstrings, Quadriceps, Gluteals and a small muscle to the side called Tensor Fascia Latae (TFL). As you can see from the image above; the IT band originates in the hip, runs down the outside of the leg and attaches to the outside of the knee. It’s common for this band to feel tight, especially with runners, which can sometimes lead to pain on the outside of the knee (Runner’s Knee) and it’s also our natural instinct to want to stretch and foam roll anything and everything with our legs that’s tight!
However, don’t take out your frustration on the little guy! As we’ve established; the IT band isn’t a muscle, and therefore doesn’t deserve to be beaten in to submission in the same way that our muscles do! Instead, a more common reason for the IT band tightness, is because the surrounding muscles that attach on to the band are tight, and are pulling the band in different directions.
In order to lessen the tightness on the IT band, we should be looking at all of the muscles that attach there, and stretching/rolling them instead. This then will put less stress on to the IT band itself, and everything relaxes and begins to move that little bit easier again.
Don’t get too excited – you’re not off the hook with the foam roller yet! My advice would be to concentrate more on the quads, hamstrings & glutes/TFL (you may find a tennis ball or trigger point ball is easier to get in to the glutes/TFL) and not rolling directly on the IT band, which would only irritate an already overly-irritated area, leading to more pain and potential bruising.
“But Jack, that’s nonsense, I’ve managed to cure my Runner’s Knee through foam rolling the IT band; how do you explain that then…?”
When we foam roll down the side of the leg, unless you’re using a teeny-tiny foam roller, you’re never going to be rolling just the IT band itself – you’ll also be hitting some of the quads, some of the hamstrings, and part of the TFL. So on that basis alone, you’ll be loosening off the IT band slightly, but you’ll also be inflicting yourself tons of unnecessary pain & potential bruising whilst doing so. It makes more sense to target each of the muscles individually through stretching/rolling, with the net effect being reduced tension to the IT band.
So if you’re struggling with a tight IT band, that’s possibly even turned in to Runner’s Knee, and are looking for a new way to get some relief around the area, try easing off the IT band itself and focus more on the muscles around it!