3 Fixes for IT Band Tension
Most active women will, at some point, experience the torment that is a tight IT band. But you don’t need to suffer through it! We caught up with Athleta Ambassador Alex Ellis, who shares 3 fixes she’s found for IT band tension.
If your iliotibial (IT) band is tight and you’ve been spending a lot of time foam rolling and stretching with no relief, chances are your tension is not due to a lack of stretch in the tissue, but more likely caused by weakness. The iliotibial band is the name of the thickened band of connective tissue (aka fascia) on the outside of your thigh. Fascia, unlike muscle, is not able to contract, so attempting to stretch the IT band from knee to hip doesn’t do much in terms of lengthening it.
The IT band gets the blame when it comes to hip or knee pain, as it runs continuous with some muscle fibers of the glutes (gluteus maximus, to be specific) and the muscles on the front of the shin. Pain caused by IT band tension can manifest as iliotibial band syndrome (an irritation caused by the IT band rubbing on the outside of the knee), shin splints, and hip pain, just to name a few.
Whether you rock your workouts in a yoga studio, gym, spin class or nature, IT band issues can seriously put a dent in your day. But there’s a few simple fixes you can do to help alleviate the tension in your IT band that don’t require a foam roller.
1. STRENGTHEN THAT GLUTE!
The first thing to know is that the IT band will create stability if your muscles aren’t pulling their weight. If one of the three glutes, the gluteus medius, is not strong enough, the IT band will tighten to create extra stability in the hip and knee. Check out my video below for an exercise called “Hip Hikers”. In the video, I am standing on a yoga block, but you can use a step or curb to lift you up. Aim for 2 minutes, if possible, but make sure you remain in pristine posture throughout!
Watch the video above for a tutorial.
2. SIT LESS
The next thing to do is to get up and out of your chair. Sitting puts your hips into a flexed position for hours upon hours each day which creates tension in all of the tissues that cross at the hip, including the IT band. If you have to sit for work, or your favorite workout activity is spinning or cycling, get up and out of your chair at least once an hour. Carve out time to take a 15-20 minute walk at the end of each day, if possible. That will help to move your hips through their full range of motion and can help alleviate tightness caused by sitting.
3. STRETCH IT OUT WITH THERAPY BALLS
The third thing you can do is to get a myofascial release tool that is more specific than a foam roller. Specifically, a pair of grippy rubber therapy balls that will be able to grab a hold of the IT band (and all of the tissues above and below it) to help create an internal fascial stretch known as shear. My personal favorite are Yoga Tune Up® Therapy Balls as they are super portable and the perfect size to nuzzle into your IT Band and rehydrate and relax your tissues.
For massage of the IT band with therapy balls, simply place two grippy therapy balls (tennis balls will work in a pinch), vertically on the outside of your thigh, and attempt to drag the therapy balls and your skin from your quads on the front of the thigh to the hamstrings on the back. You can also do this in the opposite direction (drag from hamstrings towards quads), but the important thing is that you want to drag the therapy balls along with your skin, rather than roll them quickly back and forth. Aim for a minimum of 2 minutes per side.
Whether you are a yogi, runner, lifter or cycler, give these three simple fixes a try and your workouts (and pain-free life) will improve with less IT band tension!
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