IT Band Syndrome.
Sounds like a geek squad that couldn’t quite get their act together, but really it’s the bane of many runners existence. In fact, I’ve written a whole 80 page e-Book on resolving IT Band issues once and for all because I get questions daily about it!
Today I wanted to share one of the other great lessons I learned in keeping my IT Band happy for the last 10+ years. STOP foam rolling IT Band tightness!
Why We Foam Roll
Let’s start by talking about what the foam roller does and what we are trying to accomplish.
As explained by the American Council on Exercise (ACE):
“Foam rolling is also called myofascial release and is designed to work out the “knots” in your muscles. You could compare the practice to self-massage. The technical terms for ‘knots’ are trigger points or myofascial adhesions.
What is fascia?
Fascia is connective tissue that provides stability and connection of everything in our body. A good way to think of it is that your skin is like the outer layer of an orange and the fascia is that white layer which connects everything and gives it structure!
When our fascia gets tight or twisted, through stress, training, overuse, under use, movement imbalances and injuries, we develop what are referred to as muscle adhesions…or those “knots” and trigger points everyone tells you to roll on.
We want to break up those adhesions to prevent any additional imbalances from muscles being pulled too tightly or restricting blood flow. You can read more on Breaking Muscle about why fascia matters to athletes. Why does it hurt?
As noted that break up is painful because we are forcing tissue that’s connected to muscle, bones and organs to go back to it’s relaxed state. Releasing trigger points helps to reestablish proper movement patterns and pain free movement, and ultimately, to enhance performance.
What is my IT Band?
Without getting to sciencey on you, the IT Band is connective tissue (not a muscle) runs from your hip to your knee, which is why it often results in knee pain when tight. The IT band provides essential support for the outer hip in moving and standing upright.
Your IT Band is not evil and does not need to be beaten in to submission. In fact, you really shouldn’t be using the roller right along your IT Band when it’s inflamed at all.
You can’t relax the IT Band, that’s a fallacy.It’s tissue, not a muscle, so you can’t stretch it out.
It’s tightness is caused by other muscles from the glutes to misaligned hips. And rolling on it actually smashes the muscles below it, which isn’t the goal of foam rolling.
One common cause is weak glutes that lead to our TFL (tensor fasciae latae) to kick in to keep the knee stable…the TFL can’t sustain that level of effort so the IT Band tries to pick up the slack by tightening up…your body wants to be stable and will compensate for your weaknesses until it can’t.
What to do instead? Long term we need to correct poor movement patterns, which often come from weak areas:
- Work on activating the glutes
- Stretch the hip flexors
- Roll the thigh, the inner thigh, the glutes to release fascia (see video below)
- IT Band exercises part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4
What to Foam Roll to Release IT Band
All right, so we can’t unlock the IT Band by beating it in to a pulp and we definitely need to strength some other areas, but that doesn’t mean you’re off the hook for foam rolling. We need to ensure everything around it loosens up given it a chance to breathe!
Laying on your stomach place the foam roller in your hip crease and roll to the knee. Never roll over the knee, repeat for up to 30 seconds and hold for 30 seconds in any spot with a knot.
Hip adductor/hip flexor/TFL
From the same position, get just one leg on the roller and work it in to that hip crease for 30 seconds. Then roll on to your side about the location of a side pocket and roll for 30 seconds.
From there keep on rolling til you have one glute on the roller and cross the other knee over in a figure 4 position. This will help you to get in to that glute medius which is frequently tender, so don’t go for pain, just move around and try to loosen the tension.
Ideally, place one calf on the roller and the other on top of it for additional pressure. You may need to work up to this, but it’s very helpful to get a little deeper. The calf needs to be rolled in 3 directions, down the middle, to the outside and to the inside to ensure you hit all the muscles. A tight calf pulls on the knee and is another common cause of knee pain.
Back on your stomach you’ll have the roller out a bit to one side and place your inner thigh on it just above the knee. This area is one of my most sensitive and a great way to tell that I need to allow these muscles to release so they aren’t pulling my knee inward while I run.
Often times we need to stop rolling the leg of the IT Band pain entirely and focus on the opposite side. For example, when my left IT Band begins to act up it’s often a quick sign for me of hip misalignment and tightness coming from the right side. If I focus on only rolling the right side, releasing that tension and allowing my body to move back in to natural alignment it resolves the ITB issues without further inflamming it through rolling.
Need more help resolving your IT Band issues?
Checkout my ebook which contains everything I’ve done for over 12 years to keep mine happy, to help the runners I coach and hundreds of others who have downloaded and started following the tips.
How often do you foam roll?
What area gives you the most trouble?
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