How to foam roll IT Band? It’s a discussion that comes up so often among runners, that it deserved an entire article.
Short story, you need to stop directly rolling on the IT Band and hoping it will resolve issues.
Iliotibial 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 an 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! I’ve now had multiple Physical Therapists share that this was a horrible misstep started by some well meaning gym trainers. Logically it seems like it should work, but it’s the opposite of what we want to do.
Let’s first get a better understanding of why we would foam roll something and then move on to how to treat your tight IT Band.
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.
So it seems to make sense that if foam rolling helps to release muscle tension, we’d want to roll something that has gotten so tight….ahhh, but there’s more to the story.
Like what is actually causing the tightness.
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 adhesion’s. Or those “knots” and trigger points everyone tells you to roll on.
We want to break up those adhesion’s 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 Foam Rolling 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.Find out why foam rolling your IT Band is making it worse! #running Click To Tweet
What is the IT Band?
Without getting to sciencey on you, the IT Band is connective tissue (not a muscle) runs from your hip to your knee.
That’s why it often results in knee pain when tight. The pulling on that tissue whether up or down is going to pull on the direction of your knee while running.
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 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.
Download my free IT Band Checklist to get started on recovery >>
Common Causes of IT Band Pain
I’ve done a deep dive on IT Band Syndrome to give you more ideas for recovery, but let’s just cover a few.
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.
Another super common issues is hips that are out of alignment.
What to do instead of foam rolling your IT Band?
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)
- Help reduce inflammation in your body with things like high quality Turmeric
- IT Band exercises part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4
How to Foam Roll IT Band?
All right, so we can’t unlock the IT Band by beating it in to a pulp and we definitely need to strengthen other areas, but that doesn’t mean you’re off the hook for foam rolling.
We’re not going to ever roll directly ON your IT Band.
Particularly when it’s inflammed, this is a lot like pushing on a bruise and hoping that will make it feel better. Instead, we need to get to the root cause and release muscles that might be pulling on the ITB.
Is there a good foam roller for IT Band?
You might have seen the R8 marketed as an IT Band foam roller.
No. Hard stop. It’s going to make things worse.
I know this from both personal experience and talking with other running coaches, who have also seen runners get worse from using it. The overall roller is fine, but we don’t want you rolling it along your tight ITB.
I’ve written detailed tips on finding the right foam roller and using it correctly.
My recommendation would be to start with a Trigger Point Grid foam roller to dig in to areas and follow up with a massage gun if that’s an option.
Bonus points for a vibrating foam roller. They actually help to stop pain signals to the brain, which could help you get more muscle relaxation from surrounding muscles.
Ways to Release Tight ITB
If we aren’t rolling on the IT Band, let’s talk about what we need to roll instead!
Here are the areas I would focus on to help your body release the tightness in your ITB WITHOUT rolling on your IT Band.
We need to ensure everything around it loosens up given it a chance to breathe! The following video will show you how to hit each of the areas described below.
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.
While I have a LOT of rollers and PT balls, if I had to pick one…
✅This is the best foam roller for most things.
Yes, go for the long roller. You’ll find other uses for it like opening your chest after sitting at the computer all day.
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 80 page 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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This is really interesting to read; it’s amazing how often our bodies need gentler methods of releasing the tension instead of beating them into submission. I have foam rolled my IT band once, and this is good info to keep me from not doing it again.
I’m so glad you wrote this! Foam rollers have become the “go to” for so many running related injuries or things that are becoming injuries and the foam roll can sometimes HURT instead of help. A few years ago when I ran the NYC marathon my coach told me to stop foam rolling and we used massage (by a licensed therapist) and strength training instead. Worked like a charm. In fact, I rarely use my foam roller now. My kids mostly use it as a toy…and by “toy” I mean they hit each other with it :-)
Ashley | Fit Mitten Kitchen
Such an awesome post, Amanda!! I used to foam roll my IT band all the time and probably shouldn’t have been. I definitely have tight hips – love all of these tips. Thanks for sharing!
Thank you for this post. I have frequently had IT band issues and per advice that I received. I had been foam rolling my IT band on a regular basis. This post blew my mind. I could never figure out why I was continuing to have pain even after stretching and rolling. Makes total sense now.
Oh good!!! I certainly hope this helps!! Changing up the rolling plus some PT goes a long ways!
Hah – this landed in my inbox just as I’m battling IT Band Syndrome yet again/still. Thank you for the helpful guide. Took a two week break and will incorporate these with my other PT as I slowly build back
the strength piece of IT Band recovery is huge!! Hope you’re back out there soon