If you’re an athlete, you’ve probably heard of iliotibial band syndrome (ITBS). It’s a common condition that causes pain on the outside of the knee, usually in runners and cyclists. Many people turn to foam rolling to alleviate the pain, but experts warn that this may not be the best approach.

In fact, foam rolling your IT band directly may do more harm than good. The IT band is a thick band of connective tissue that runs from the hip to the knee. It’s not a muscle, so it can’t be stretched or massaged like one. Foam rolling the IT band can actually cause more inflammation and irritation, making the pain worse.

So what should you do instead? 

Understanding the IT Band

The IT band, also known as the iliotibial band, is a thick band of connective tissue that runs along the outside of your thigh from your hip to your knee. It is composed of fascia, a type of connective tissue that surrounds muscles, tendons, and ligaments. 

Anatomy of the IT Band

The IT band is composed of two layers: 

  1. The superficial layer 
  2. The deep layer. 

The superficial layer is made up of dense connective tissue, while the deep layer is composed of muscle fibers from the tensor fascia lata (TFL) and gluteus maximus muscles. The TFL is a small muscle located on the side of your hip that helps to stabilize your pelvis during movement.

Function and Importance

The IT band plays an important role in stabilizing the knee during movement, especially during running and jumping. It also helps to control the motion of the hip joint. The glutes and TFL muscles work together to control the movement of the hip and knee, helping to prevent injury and improve performance.

RELATED READING: The Importance of Exercise in Injury Prevention and Recovery

While foam rolling has become a popular method for releasing tight muscles, it is not an effective way to release tension in the IT band. 

Common Issues with IT Band

If you’re an athlete, you may have experienced pain or discomfort in your IT band. The iliotibial band is a thick band of connective tissue that runs along the outside of your thigh, from your hip to your knee. When the band becomes irritated or inflamed, it can cause IT band syndrome (ITBS). Here are some common issues associated with IT band syndrome.

Symptoms of IT Band Syndrome

The most common symptom of IT band syndrome is pain on the outside of the knee. The pain may be sharp or dull and may worsen when you run, walk, or climb stairs. You may also experience swelling or tenderness in the affected area.

Contributing Factors

Several factors can contribute to IT band syndrome, including:

  • Overuse: Repeatedly bending and straightening your knee can cause the IT band to become irritated and inflamed.
  • Muscle imbalances: Weakness in the hip abductors, glutes, or core muscles can cause the IT band to become overworked and irritated.
  • Poor running form: Running with poor form, such as overstriding or running on a cambered surface, can also contribute to IT band syndrome.
  • Tight muscles: Tightness in the IT band or surrounding muscles can cause the band to rub against the knee, leading to irritation and inflammation.

It’s important to address IT band pain as soon as possible to prevent it from becoming a chronic issue. If you’re experiencing pain or discomfort in your IT band, consider speaking with a healthcare professional or physical therapist to determine the best course of treatment.

Why You Shouldn’t Foam Roll Your IT Band

If you’re experiencing pain or tightness along your IT band, foam rolling may seem like a logical solution, but you should actually avoid it in this case. Here’s why:

  • Your IT band is not a muscle: Your IT band is a thick band of connective tissue that runs from your hip to your knee. Unlike muscles, it doesn’t contract or relax, so foam rolling it won’t release any tension. Instead, foam rolling your IT band can cause inflammation and irritation.
  • You can’t isolate your IT band: When you roll over your IT band with a foam roller, you’re also putting pressure on the surrounding muscles and tissues. This can cause discomfort and pain in areas that don’t need to be targeted.
  • Foam rolling can worsen IT band syndrome: IT band syndrome is a common overuse injury that causes pain and inflammation on the outside of the knee. Foam rolling your IT band can aggravate this condition, making your symptoms worse.

So, What Should You Do Instead Of Foam Rolling Your IT Band? 

Focus on strengthening, stabilizing, and stretching the surrounding muscles, such as your glutes, hip flexors, and quadriceps. 

Exercises such as squats, lunges, and deadlifts can help to strengthen the glutes and TFL muscles, improving stability and reducing the risk of injury. Additionally, single leg static holds can assist greatly, ensuring progressive time under tension. 

Stretching the muscles surrounding the IT band, such as the quadriceps and hamstrings, can help to improve flexibility and reduce tension in the area. You can also use a foam roller or massage ball to target these areas, without putting unnecessary pressure on your IT band.

By taking a more holistic approach to your IT band pain, you can reduce inflammation, increase flexibility, and improve your overall function.

If you’re struggling with IT band pain, come visit the team at CWC Sport Therapy in Coquitlam. Our experienced physiotherapists, chiropractors, and massage therapists can help.