This is a short post on a question we get asked a handful of times per week.
“Should I foam roll my IT Band?”
…Okay, we’ll go into a bit more detail than that! Here is why and what you can do to help your pain instead.
For those of you that don’t know, the ITB stands for Iliotibial Band. It is a thick fibrous band which runs from the outside of the hip, to the outside of the knee. It is not a muscle itself but has many connections to the muscles which surround it, mainly the Glutes and the TFL (Tensor Fasciae Latae).
The main function of the ITB is to provide stabilisation to the knee and hip when we are standing. It also provides and maintains symmetry as we walk. This means it is used constantly when we are moving. It also remains very taut even when we are resting.
Injury to the ITB is sometimes referred to as “ITB syndrome”. The most common cause of this injury is overuse. This may be through running, hiking, cycling or another form of repetitive activity that the body has perhaps not been prepared for. Ramping up training is a common reason it can develop.
The overuse causes inflammation of the ITB, most commonly around the insertion – which would be around the outside of the knee/thigh. The ITB inflammation can irritate surrounding structures such as the fat pads around the outside of the knee, and leads to pain and stiffness.
It is common to think that the ITB has got “too tight” and therefore needs to be stretched or rolled using a foam roller, in order to promote healing and improve mobility. However – the ITB is not a muscle! Therefore, it does not contract and relax. Meaning we are not able to alter it’s contracted/relaxed state. It is always taut whether we are moving or not. The degree of tension will change as we move but it will never fully relax.
The ITB is an incredibly strong and rigid piece of anatomy. The amount of pressure needed to alter the composition or structure would not be possible with a foam roller (more likely, a steam roller!). It’s also really b****y painful, so why not look for another (less painful) way?
Stretching and rolling the muscle which surround the ITB is likely to be far more effective. This would mean working on:
- The Gluteals
- The Quadriceps
- The Hamstrings
- The Adductors
When there are issues in the above regions, the ITB will pick up some of the slack and risk becoming overloaded. Stretching the muscles may be one solution but often a strengthening program is also needed.
For example, if the muscles around the outside of the hip are not functioning well (e.g. the Glute Medius), the ITB may need to work harder to stabilise the hip and leg during activity. By strengthening the muscles, you will reduce pressure on the ITB and reduce the pain.
It can sometimes be difficult to know what is the best solution for ITB syndrome. If you feel this is the case, it can be worth seeing a Physiotherapist to have an assessment. Our aim is to provide you with a diagnosis and a treatment program to get you back on track!