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How to Foam Roll Your Iliotibial Band (IT Band)
Posted by Dr. Ben Kim on Nov 08, 2010
One of the most important principles taught in chiropractic school is that every joint in the body is affected by the health of adjacent joints.
Put another way, when a patient presents with a knee problem, it's prudent to do a thorough evaluation of the knee, hip, and ankle regions, as sometimes, dysfunction in the ankle or hip can be a root cause of knee pain and dysfunction.
And to take things further, it never hurts to evaluate gait and overall health to make sure that all major joints are functioning properly; purely due to the biomechanical design of your body, lack of or excessive mobility in the joints within your feet and ankles can actually cause dysfunction all the way up in your spine as your body is forced to make compensatory changes over time.
With the hip and knee joints in particular, there are a number of tissues that connect these two major joints. The iliotibial tract (also called IT band) is one of these tissues, and when shortened through overuse and lack of stretching, can create dysfunction throughout the lower extremities.
Anatomy of Your IT Band
Your IT band originates from your pelvic region, where it's meshed together with a muscle called your tensor fascia latae and even a bit of your gluteus maximus.
From your outer hip region, your IT band travels down the outside part of your thigh and inserts into the top of your shin bone. If you palpate the side of your thigh right above your knee joint, you'll locate a tight band of tissue that is larger than a typical tendon and more firm than a well developed muscle - this is part of your IT band.
Your IT band can become tight and even inflamed for any number of reasons, some of which include:
Repeated walking or running on uneven terrain.
Training on a track or the edge of road that is slightly graded to one side, causing the iliotibial band of your downhill leg to experience extra stress.
Engaging in high level athletic activities without proper form.
Being overweight and/or suddenly gaining weight, including that of pregnancy, where your IT band experiences excessive strain.
IT band tightness is quite common, and most often manifests as pain in the outer, lower thigh region, just above the knee joint. With a tight IT band, you can expect to have some level of dysfunction in your hip and knee, if not now, then sometime in the future.
In your hip region, a tight IT band is sometimes caused by weak hip abductors or hip flexors, as weakness in these muscles can cause your tensor fascia latae to overwork, which creates excessive upward strain on your IT band.
In your knee, a tight IT band can cause your anterior and posterior cruciate ligaments to experience more load whenever your knee joints are stressed, which increases risk of experiencing a sprain or even a tear of one of these ligaments.
Bottom line: if you're looking to stay healthy and mobile, regardless of your age, you can stand to benefit from keeping your IT bands healthy.
How to Foam Roll Your IT Band
To promote healthy IT bands, you'll need a foam roller or a jumbo tennis ball (or volleyball). Since the IT band is usually quite tender to pressure, I typically start my patients on a jumbo tennis ball.
Start by lying on your side, support your body weight with your legs and arms, and lie with a foam roller or ball under the upper, outside portion of your thigh - this is the proximal portion of your IT band.
Use your legs and arms to roll the length of your IT band along the ball, traveling right down to just above your knee joint. As you get closer to your knee, you may feel more tenderness, so be prepared to use your arms and legs to ease pressure off of your IT band.
Roll back towards the upper portion of your IT band, and continue back and forth in this fashion for a few passes.
Maintain steady breathing, and feel free to linger and increase pressure whenever you come to points that are especially taut or tender.
Switch from leg to leg between sets to ensure that both of your IT bands are stripped in this fashion, and when you get to a point where you don't feel that much is being done with a ball, you can try this exercise with a foam roller.
Regular rolling of your IT bands should prevent your knee and hip joints from being unnecessarily stressed as you go about your daily activities. It's an unusual exercise, but typical activities and stretching programs don't tend to address IT bands, so rolling this area should be a high priority in your program of self care and wellness.
Here's a brief video clip that shows how to foam roll your IT band:
Please note that your tensor fascia latae (see picture up top) serves to flex and internally rotate your hip joint, and can be accessed while foam rolling the hip flexor and hip abductor regions. If you need guidance on how to roll these areas, view the following posts:
If you don't have a foam roller and are looking to invest in one that offers a blend of comfort, durability, and ideal density to provide therapeutic rolling of your muscles and ligaments, please feel free to have a look at the one that I had custom made for our clients here:
For a DVD that presents still photos and video clips that illustrate how to take your body through all of the major stretches and foam rolling exercises you can do to keep your body as healthy as your genetics will allow, have a look here:
Here is a link to a jumbo tennis ball that you can use to roll some of your more sensitive tissues:
And here are more related posts that involve foam rolling to support your health:
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