All About the IT Band — Regular Upkeep to Avoid Troubles

It’s IT. The Illiotibial Band runs along the outside of your thigh, from the top of your hip (the iliac crest, that bony ridge) and down to your knee. With runners the IT Band is a common malady and I’ll go out on a limb and say that yours is probably tight unless you’ve been working on it.

girl kicking

Kick IT Band issues to the curb with regular maintenance! ;)


What does ‘working on it’ mean? Diligent stretching (we all know how good I am at that!) and breaking up the knots. One of the best ways to focus on the latter is to use the foam roller; I’m going to warn you that if you haven’t done this before it’s going to be pretty uncomfortable and maybe even make you want to curl up and cry…so bring a tissue. ;)

To use the foam roller on the IT Band, lie on your side, prop yourself up with your elbow and position the roller just under your hip. Now, move your body forward so that the roller works itself down on the outside of your thigh and stop when you come to your knee.

Roll in a gradual, slow motion, and then when you come to your knee reverse directions back up to your hip. You will adjust the amount of tension by applying more or less of your body weight onto the roller. If you’re new at this your IT Band will probably be tender and you might not even need to apply that much weight before you feel it.

When you come to a particularly sore spot, pause and hold it on the roller. This is called applying direct pressure and as you hold it gradually start adding more of your weight onto the spot, this will help break up the knot. Only hold it there for about a minute and then do short rolls back and forth over the area to further help release the knot.

You may come across quite a few knots and you won’t be able to break all of them up in a single self-massage session either. This is something that you should think of as maintenance, like you do for your car; you only want to target a particular muscle or tendon for up to 15 minutes at a time. The best way to go about it is to sneak in short sessions after your run or while you’re watching TV, but on a continual basis instead of ignoring it and then going crazy on the roller for an hour once a month.

After a few days/weeks of consistent rolling (and only go to the point of uncomfort, yes it will be tender and sore but you don’t want to go to unbearable pain levels because then you’ll just end up doing more damage than good.) you’ll see results and foam rolling across that IT Band will start to be less and less of a torturous thought.

cupid

Try to love the foam roller...really, it's not a torture contraption. :)


The other way to keep your IT Band in check is with stretching. Two of the best IT Band stretches:

  • Sit on the floor with your palms flat on the floor a few inches behind your bum; bend your knees up and place the soles of your feet flat on the floor in front your bum. Take your left foot and lie your left ankle across your right knee; you’ll then let your knee drop towards the floor, you’ll be rotating at the hip and be in a sort of half-butterfly position. Hold the stretch for at least 25 seconds and gradually try to get your knee closer to the ground. Repeat with the other leg.
  • This time, take your left leg, bent at the knee and lay it in front of you. Take your right leg, straighten it as best you can and let if trail behind you. You’ll be sort of in a splits position, except your front leg is bent. And if you’re me there is no way you could actually do the splits, so you might need to just drop your knee, bend your torso forward, and use your arms for support. Regardless, you want to feel the stretch in the outside of your hip area, so lean forward and slightly to the left as you hold this stretch. Repeat with the right leg in front.

The IT Band, once irritated can be a chronic and annoying bugger to deal with so if it’s not causing you problems yet, remember that the best way to avoid an injury as to be proactive!

If you are currently suffering from IT Band issues, stretching and gentle foam rolling is my advice. The only difference is that I caution you NOT to over-do it. You don’t want to be massaging it too much (ie: more than 15 minutes once a day) and you don’t want to be going past the point of uncomfort; do this and you’ll only cause more inflammation to the tissues. Stretching, follow the same rules, go to just the point of slight uncomfort and the best way to stretch is to hold it for a minute or two and just go a little deeper over time as the muscle relaxes. Then, once you’re done ice is your friend! Finally, be smart and it’s better to take a shorter break sooner rather than be forced into a longer one later; if you shouldn’t be running because of an IT Band injury don’t underestimate the power of cross-training.

Sorry to say it again, but I will….check out the December issue of Running Times because I’ve written an article that is all about self-massage and there is more where this came from in it. ☺

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This post was inspired by one awesome Jen @ Run For Anna, who you should go check out because she is training for her first marathon and running for one INSPIRING cause!! You have to read up on her story, she is truly doing something wonderful with each mile she puts it!
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1) Have you ever used the foam roller?
Yup…and it’s made me feel like a weenie at times…but the time on it are for a good cause I tell myself!
2) Have you ever had IT Band issues?
Yes again, hence the foam rolling.
3) Who raced this weekend?!

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7 thoughts on “All About the IT Band — Regular Upkeep to Avoid Troubles

  1. Awww….thanks for this post and for the shout-out! Would you believe I don’t even have a foam roller? Sounds like it might be a good time to get one.

    So happy I found your blog. You definitely know what you’re talking about and every post educates me in some way. And, yes, I will check out the December issue of Running Times. :)

  2. Hello!
    First, thankyou for your sweet comment on my blog:)

    I’ve just spent a fair amount of time here reading through your tabs above. Oh my word, what an accident/injury to come back from!! Such a great attitude you have! Also, there is a WEALTH of information on your blog here. Holy smokes. I could sit here and read forever! This is AWESOME! And, I read your article about the parents of runners. My 11 year old daughter is really into running.

    OK-nice to meet you and I’m going to stop commenting and start reading some more again:)

  3. Oh, IT band. I am so lucky that mine hasn’t caused any particular issues (knock on wood), I have started taking a stretching focused pilates class once a week and the instructor thought it prudent to comment on my leg circles and tight hips by saying ‘Wow, just a bit tight there huh?’ then, to further it say ‘and what’s going on with those feet?’.
    I should invest in a foam roller, but torture has never really been my thing. Thanks for the stretching ideas Cait and congratulations on your article in Running Times! Is it going to be a regular thing?

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