Sometimes I feel bad for the IT band (aka that big sheet of connective tissue on the outside of your leg that runs from your hip to your knee).
From hip stiffness to back and knee pain, the IT band gets blamed for everything and then we try to fix it by bludgeoning it with a foam roller 😉
However, a lot of us have tight IT bands, and despite all the stretching and rolling, it doesn’t seem to get any less…well…tight.
In my experience, this is in part, because you might be missing a few key pieces of info about why your IT band feels tight, so today I’m going to dispel a few IT band myths.
Myth 1: Foam rolling your IT band should hurt
Fact: Pain is just sensation, not a sign of relief.
There are a lot of opinions about how to foam roll the IT band or if you should even bother with it. As a massage therapist + fitness professional, here’s my take.
It’s true that you probably can’t change the length of your IT band by foam rolling it, but if it feels good and gives you a little relief to roll it out, you’re not going to hurt anything doing so. Also, they’ve found that foam rolling can temporarily increase your range of motion, so it could be helpful depending on your activities.
That being said, you have a bunch of nerves there, which is one reason why the IT band is so sensitive to foam rolling and inducing pain won’t typically create relief. In fact, if you go too hard, you could send a signal to your body to tighten things more.
So, if you want to roll it, try using a softer roller, applying less pressure or slowing down. Really, you’re just trying to send a signal to the nervous system to tell that area to relax. You don’t need to go Rambo on it.
Final tip. There’s a little spot on the IT band located just above the outside of your knee that tends to respond well to foam rolling and often makes for a happier low back/hip/knee – especially if you gently cross fiber it, as I’m demoing in the GIF below.
(Note: Limit this move to around 6 reps. It doesn’t take much to create change!)
Myth 2: Your tight IT band is the primary cause of your knee/hip/back pain
Fact: IT band tightness is a symptom of an underlying issue.
Yes, a tight IT band can sometimes (though not always) correlate with hip, knee or low back discomfort, but why does your IT band feel tight?
The usual culprit? Hip weakness – usually from too much sitting/underuse. When your hip stabilizers are weak, something has to hold your hips together when you walk or workout. That something is your IT band.
When you have good movement patterns, the IT band actually helps you walk and run efficiently. However, when the hip muscles aren’t doing their job, the IT band has to lock down to create stability where you don’t have any.
Enter hip/knee/back stiffness, tension and pain.
Myth 3: When your IT band feels tight it needs to be released
Fact: Usually, it’s fine to roll or stretch that area, but if you want to see lasting change, you probably need some hip strength.
As I mentioned above, tight IT bands usually = weak hips. So, if rolling it doesn’t seem to help much, you might want to consider adding some hip strength exercises to your routine.
Strengthening the muscles around the IT band improves movement patterns and alignment, which means the IT band won’t have to work so hard to hold you up. This also means your IT band won’t feel so tight.
If you’re wondering how to create that balance between release and strength work for your IT band + hips, check out Hips Don’t Lie, an 8 week at home program that does just that.
I created Hips Don’t Lie based on my and my client’s experiences with cranky hips + my years of studying how to address these common, but so-not-fun issues.
AND as a bonus to buying Hips Don’t Lie, you’ll also get Class 1 from Trina Altman’s Yoga Deconstructed® Online Course.
Trina’s exercises are fun, effective, and a great compliment to Hips Don’t Lie. I don’t know if we’ll be offering this bonus in the future, so now would be the time to grab it <3
P.S. Want to learn more about common causes and solutions for hip stiffness? I recently had the pleasure of chatting with Eric Feigl from the Fitness Candor Podcast about this topic.