IT Band and Why It’s Tight

Can we all agree that IT bands are as finicky as anything?! Almost every client I’ve worked with has observed IT band tightness at one point or another. Today’s blog is dedicated to this special fascia, covering everything from what causes that tightness to the stretches we can do to release it.

First off, what is the IT band? The Iliotibial band is made up of fascia, which is elastic connective tissue and runs from above the hip to attach at the top of the shin bone. We can feel it when we stretch the outer, lateral line of the leg. Fun little fact, sometimes the IT band is mistaken as a tendon since fascia and tendons have similar qualities. The purpose of the IT band isn’t certain either, and there are studies debating whether it’s used for stabilizing the joints while walking or as a spring to aid in movement while conserving energy. Cool, huh?

There are several things that cause IT band tightness. If you sit often for your job, the hips are forced to be square for long periods of time, resulting in hip flexor tightness. This hip flexor tightness forces a pelvic tilt, resulting in even more tightness in the lower back and the hamstrings. All of this, of course, contributes to tight IT bands! Additionally, if you run or cycle, overuse of the band can cause IT syndrome. Some symptoms include tightness around the outside of the knee during running or a prickly, electric feeling along the outer leg when cycling. Even if you don’t feel these symptoms you could still have mild to moderate IT band tightness. Yikes! Don’t worry, there are several ways to stretch it. While foaming rolling along the outer leg is one of the most known ways to stretch out the IT band, here are a couple of other stretches to try.

Forward folds – Whether it’s seated or standing, any forward fold that elongates the lower back and hamstrings is beneficial for also stretching the IT band. My personal favorite is a wide legged forward fold with the toes pointed in towards each other slightly (think pigeon toed). Be sure that the spine is really long in these folds even if that means the knees are slightly bent; that will give you the best stretch.

Half splits – Starting in a low lunge, straighten out your front leg as you keep your spine long and flex the toes in towards the shin. In this variation you’ll feel a stretch in the hamstrings. To access the IT band, turn the toes inward to the mid-line of the mat as you internally rotate the leg. You’ll feel a stretch similar to a zingy, electric shock along the outer line of the leg.

Reclined pigeon – Laying on your back, bend both of your knees, planting the soles of your feet down to the ground. Cross your right ankle by your left knee, creating a figure four with the legs. Pull your left leg into the body by threading your right hand through that figure four you just created while simultaneously pressing your right knee away from your face. You can do that either with the muscles of the right leg or with the right elbow. This is a great stretch for both the hips and the lower back.

So regardless of whether you sit all day long for your job, or you’re an avid runner or cyclist, chances are that your IT bands are tight in some way, shape, or form. After a workout or just a long day at the office, give your IT bands some love and try one or all of these stretches. Let me know what you think at!

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