What is the IT Band?

The Iliotibial band or IT band is a long piece of connective tissue in your lower body.  The IT band runs from your outer hip all the way down to the outer knee.  This piece of connective tissue is a powerful and deep band that does a lot to help your daily movement.  

The IT band is what provides support for your hips as you walk, run, and especially as you stand.  The IT band is also an insertion point for two of your larger upper thigh muscles, the gluteus maximus and the tensor fascia latae.  When you contract your upper leg muscles, you can see the IT band move and pull on the entire thigh.  As you tense these muscles, your IT band contracts and plays an even more prominent role in supporting the movement of your hip.

What Causes Problems in the IT Band?

Iliotibial band syndrome or ITB syndrome occurs when there is inflammation and irritation in the IT band.  This is a widespread problem for both runners and cyclists because it is an issue of overuse.  Runners and cyclists tend to do the same repetitive motion repeatedly which can cause the IT band to rub or tug on the outer knee.  

Weak hip muscles can also contribute to IT band problems.  Runners especially suffer from this more often.  If your hips are weak, this puts a lot of stress and strain on the tissues around the knee, including the IT band.  It can also lead to poor running form which again, inflames and stresses the IT band.  

Finally, shoes can cause an issue with the IT band.  If you are wearing worn down shoes, you could be causing your foot to land poorly on the ground.  Poor foot mechanics puts stress on your knees and hips which in turn stresses your IT band.  

If you feel pain on the outside of your knee as you run or walk, this could be an indication that you have ITB syndrome. Luckily, IT band stretches can help you both prevent and heal this irritating problem.  

Importance of IT Band Stretches

IT band stretches can help alleviate the pain associated with ITB syndrome and can also help prevent problems with the IT band in the future.  Because the IT band is a thick, sturdy, and deep connective tissue, these stretches aren’t meant to loosen the band.  Instead, they help bring blood flow to the tissue which can increase healing.  The IT band stretches also strengthen the area which helps with stabilization and support.

Here are a few things to keep in mind as you do these stretches:

  • You should always consult with your doctor or another professional before you do any stretches.  They can help you perfect your form and make sure you are doing the correct movements for your body and issues.  
  • Never push into a stretch past the point of discomfort.  You might feel a little pull or strain, which is normal, but you should never feel sharp or sudden pains.  If you do, that could be an indication of further injury.
  • If you are doing these for preventative measures, try to do them after a workout.  Your muscles are looser and have more blood flow after a workout which can aid your stretching.
  • Move slowly in these stretches and make sure you keep breathing the whole time.  Stop if you feel any sharp or sudden pain.
  • Repeat each stretch about 4 to 5 times on each side before moving to the next one.

IT Band Stretches

All these exercises target the IT band and the surrounding muscles and tendons.  You might not feel anything with some of these stretches, and if that is the case make sure you are doing them correctly.  Otherwise, try to do these IT band stretches at least once if not twice daily.  

Standing IT Band Stretch

Stand upright and cross your left foot over the top of your right foot.  Take your right hand and raise it above your head and then lean towards the left side of your body.  You should feel a stretch along the outside of your right leg, which is the IT band.  Hold this pose for about 30 seconds and then slowly stand upright again.  Repeat on the opposite side.  

You can also deepen this stretch a little bit if you don’t feel the effect.  Stand upright and take your right foot behind and across your left foot.  Bend your left leg a little and push your hips to the right, keeping your right foot entirely on the floor.  Hold for 30 seconds and then stand back upright.  Repeat on the opposite side.  

Bending IT Band Stretch

Stand upright and cross your left foot over the top of your right foot.  Bend forward at the waist and keep your back straight.  Your upper and lower body should form a 90-degree angle.  Hold this stretch for 20 seconds and then round your back and stretch all the way down to your toes.  Hold for an additional 20 seconds and then slowly stand upright.  Repeat on the opposite side.  

Wall IT Band Stretch

Find an open wall and place your hands on it.  Move back so you are standing an arm’s length away from the wall.  Keeping your arms in the same position, step your left foot forward and your right foot back.  It should look like you’re almost in a runner’s lunge, but more upright and supporting yourself with your upper body.  

Bend your left knee and keep your right leg straight.  Try to keep your right heel on the ground.  Hold this for 30 seconds and then return to standing.  Repeat on the opposite side.  

Assisted IT Band Stretch

You will need a partner to help you with this stretch.  Lie on your back on the ground.  Lift your left leg up and have your partner hold it up out of the way with one hand.  With their other hand, have your partner gently pull your right leg towards your left hip while you keep the leg straight.  Hold this for 30 seconds and then repeat on the opposite side.  

Twisting IT Band Stretch

This stretch is sometimes called tensor fasciae latae stretch. It helps lengthen the muscles that insert into the IT band.  Sit on the ground with both legs out straight in front of you.  Keep your right leg straight and bend the left leg up towards your chest.  

Cross the left leg over the right leg and place your left foot on the ground by your right knee.  Place your hands around the top of your left knee and gently pull it towards the right until you meet resistance.  Hold this stretch for about 30 seconds and then repeat on the opposite side.

Deep Glute IT Band Stretch

This stretch focuses on the gluteus maximus muscle which inserts into the IT band.  Lie on the ground on your back with both legs straight.  Pull your left knee up to your chest.  Hold this for a few seconds and then gently twist your leg towards the right-hand side.  You can use your hands to help pull the knee, but try to keep both shoulders on the ground.  Once you can’t pull the knee across anymore without your shoulders raising up, hold for 30 seconds.  Return your knee to the starting position with both legs straight and repeat on the opposite side.  

What About Foam Rolling for The IT Band?

Foam rolling is a popular form of recovery for many athletes.  This recovery technique is a form of self-massage and uses a foam roller, sometimes with bumps and nodules, to massage sore or tight muscles.  Foam rolling is a terrific way to bring circulation to muscles which aids in faster recovery, and also loosens tight muscles.  

There is some controversy about using a foam roller to help heal or stretch the IT band.  Some experts say that the increased blood flow to the area helps with quicker recovery.  Still, there are others who think foam rolling on the IT band could cause more damage than benefit.  

The IT band is meant to be a tight muscle because it is what supports and stabilizes the knee.  Loosening it too much can cause more irritation and possibly inflammation.  Also, because the IT band is set deep inside the leg, you might have to foam roll very hard even to reach it and, you could cause tissue damage.  

The best advice is to talk to your doctor or physical therapist and see what they say is right for your body.  They might have you foam roll in addition to your stretches, but they might have you do it while they are present so that they can prevent any further damage.

Overall on IT Band Stretches

With proper attention and care, your IT band can stay healthy and help your athletic performance.  If you do happen to hurt your IT band or have ITB syndrome, these IT band stretches can help you recover and get back to your normal activities.  

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