In the video above, I show you foam roller exercises to help with pain coming from the IT Band. Many runners will be already familiar with the foam roller as a great tool for dealing with some of the tightness that causes the discomfort of IT Band Syndrome… It works, usually more effectively than IT Band Stretches, but probably not in the way you’re thinking.
IT Band Stretches
When foam rolling to treat Iliotibial Band Syndrome and performing IT Band stretches, many runners do so in the belief that they’re releasing a tight iliotibial band – the IT Band itself, and that foam rolling is effectively mobilising or stretching the IT band, the tissue that’s causing the problem.
The fatal flaw here is that the IT Band itself isn’t al all like a muscle. In fact, it doesn’t have the capacity to get tight of it’s own accord. It’s what we refer to as being non-contractile.
What’s more, cadaver studies have been done to better understand the tissue of the ITB itself. These have shown that the tissue is super-strong, having a similar tensile strength to that of soft steel.
Simply put, for all the IT Band stretches you may want to try, you just can’t stretch the Iliotibial Band!
This begs the question, of course, where does the tension come from?
Well, at the top end of the IT Band it doesn’t just attach directly into bone. Rather it blends into the bottom parts of two important hip muscles; Tensor Fascia Latae and Glute Max.
Now, if either or both of those guys get tight, then naturally more tension is going to be experienced by the ITB.
This increased tension in the IT Band (remember I’m saying that it’s being held under tension, not that it’s tight in-and-of itself) then often causes compression of the sensitive fat pad just around the outside of the knee here.
While previously it was thought that ITB Syndrome was caused by friction around the outside of the knee, more recent research points towards this compression of the fat pad as being the source of the pain runners experience from this injury.
Now back to our foam rolling…
Foam Roller Exercises
Hopefully it now it makes sense when I tell you that foam rolling, particularly foam rolling near the site of pain, when suffering from ITB syndrome can actually add to the compression, and therefore prolong the problem.
I certainly still encourage the use of a foam roller, just with a focus up around the hip, targeting the muscles mentioned earlier – Tensor Fascia Latae (TFL) and Glute Max. These guys are often the culprits when it comes to the increased tension experienced by the ITB… which then causes compression and pain.
In reality, I see many more tight TFL muscles than I do runners with tightness in Glute Max.
Generally, the pattern is weak Glutes and overactive TFL as a consequence.
Of course, it would be still for me not to address the fact that so many runners do report improvements in their pain as a response to foam rolling the outside of the thigh. I’ve spoken here specifically about ITB Syndrome.
If your pain is related to tightness in Vastus Lateralis, the outer of the quads muscles, and this is sometimes very similar pain to ITB Syndrome (and not mutually exclusive) then you may well benefit from foam rolling the outside of the thigh… just stay away from the outside of the knee region. It’s a sensitive area!
I really hope you find this helpful in treating your Iliotibial Band Syndrome. Do let me know in the comments below if you have any questions.Last updated on March 7th, 2021.