Ask the Yogi: What is the IT band?
Q: My massage therapist told me I had a tight IT band. Just what is this band and what would make it tight?
A: The IT or iliotibial band is a broad band of fascia that stretches from the outer hip down our leg to the outer edge of our leg below the knee. The band interacts with the tensor fascia latae muscle as well as the gluteus maximus and is involved in hip actions that extend, abduct or turn out the hip. Its position acts to stabilize the knee joint and it is used constantly when we walk or run.
Now, since it is not a muscle, the band itself does not contract however, because it connects to muscles that do contract, the band can indeed become short. This can be a consequence of running long distances without proper cross training. The gluteus maximus is used in the act of running and if it exerts too much pull on the IT band, the fibers can be shortened. There is sometimes an appearance of a slight indentation at the outer leg that runs from the hip to the knee in those who have overly tight IT bands.
A tight IT band can create an issue known at IT band syndrome where the friction of the tight band can cause inflammation in the area to the lateral side of the knee and along the length of the IT band. A tight IT band can also pull laterally on the knee cap and cause issues with the way the knee cap tracks in the front of the knee causing pain.
Massage is one remedy for a tight band and so is using a foam roller to do self massage on the area. Many describe massage to this area or foam rolling this area to at first be uncomfortable. The best advice is to work with someone who is knowledgeable, keeps the sensations to a level you can tolerate and is willing to go slowly to help resolve the issue. If you want to use a foam roller, get some instruction first and go gently. Plan on taking your time and it will be much more comfortable.
There is a great yoga stretch that can help you lengthen your IT band:
IT Band Yoga Stretch
- Recline on your back with your left knee pulled into your chest and your right leg against the floor.
- Stretch your arms out to your sides and press your shoulders firmly against the floor.
- Slowly bring your bent left knee across your body toward your right. As you do this, allow the left side of your pelvis to tilt away from the floor, but keep your left shoulder firmly on the floor.
- When you have created a comfortable twist, gradually begin to straighten your left leg. By adjusting how much your straighten your leg you will be able to create a comfortable stretch along your IT band.
- Hold the position for several deep breaths then bend your knee and return to the starting position.
By incorporating this stretch into your regular training you can help prevent IT band tightness and reduce the risk of developing knee cap tracking issues.
This instruction is not intended to diagnose or treat an illness or injury. Please use common sense in attempting this type of exercise and make sure you create no pain or strong sensations. The best idea is to consult with your doctor regarding your symptoms.