One of the most common complaints among runners is a problem with the IT band. The iliotibial band is a thick band of fascia. It runs from the outside of the pelvis and stops just below the knee. Its main role is to stabilize the knee during running. Runners often fall prey to IT band syndrome because of the repeated extension and flexion of the IT band during running.
Symptoms of IT band syndrome range from a stinging sensation around the knee joint to thickening or swelling of the tissue where the band moves over the femur. Often, the stinging sensation can be felt on the outside of the knee and even long the entire length of the IT band. Pain doesn’t necessarily occur during activity, but can intensify over time. The pain is typically felt when the foot hits the ground and usually lasts even after activity.
When it comes to pain in the body, one of the most important principles that is taught is that every joint in the body is affected by problems or health of nearby joints. This principle applies to the IT band as well. Runners typically find the pain in their knee to be an IT band problem.
Foam rolling for the IT band
Foam rolling can help to promote health in the IT band. To foam roll the IT band, you will need a foam roller. Place the foam roller perpendicular under your hip. Lay on your side and support body weight with arms and the leg that is not being rolled. Using your arms and leg, roll the up and down along the IT band stopping just below the knee joint. As you get closer to the knee, you may feel more pain or tenderness. Use your legs and arms to ease pressure from the IT band.
While you are rolling, be sure to maintain constant and deep breathing to allow oxygen to get to muscles. If you discover an area that is particularly tender or tight, don’t be afraid of pausing and letting the foam roller relax the IT band.
When foam rollers are used regularly on the IT band, it should help to prevent hip and knee joints from being stressed. It may seem unusual, but typical exercises and stretching do not address the IT band. Make rolling the IT band a priority in your exercise program.
While there are many proponents of using a foam roller on the IT band, some critics say that a foam roller should not be used on the IT band. These critics say that rolling the IT band will make it stick to the quadriceps that lay underneath the band. For those who are already having problems with their IT band sticking to the underlying muscles, this could be a problem. Critics say that the best way to release the IT band and relieve pressure is to massage the tensor fascia latae and the glutes. This can be done with a foam roller and is similar to rolling the IT band.
Some critics say that the IT band is a dense, connective tissue that cannot be permanently deformed. There is the possibility of it being stretched on a short-term basis because of its viscoelastic properties, they say that it cannot be permanently lengthened. This is also partly to do because it is attached to the femur. Critics say that five to 10 minutes with a foam roller will not stretch out the foam roller preventing relief. The main argument here seems to be that the foam roller compresses the band and does nothing to change the length or relieve tightness.
The vast majority of runners who use foam rollers for IT band therapy have had positive experiences and relief. Along with IT band rolling, it is suggested to roll other surrounding areas of the body to ensure that if there is tension that is being relieved as well. Therapists have acknowledged that adhesions can form on the IT band. The majority of these adhesions are typically located in the tensor fascia latae (TFL) and the gluteals. Many people actually have minimal adhesions on the IT band itself.
For lasting relief of IT band problems, ensure that you are foam rolling the adductors, glutes and TFL as well. This will show in increased range of hips, reduction of pain and discomfort by breaking down adhesions in the gluteals, TFL and adductors. This is especially helpful for foam roller beginners since rolling the IT band can be painful. Once you have worked through the surrounding areas with a foam roller, rolling the IT band will become less painful.