Tight Hips? Alternatives to Rolling out Your IT Band

A favorite activity of athletes is to roll out their aching muscles on a foam roller (the real masochists use the bumpy ones). Many of us like to roll along the outside of the thigh to “loosen” the tight, cranky Iliotibial Tract (known to its friends as the IT Band or ITB). This is an activity so painful that we have all assumed that it must be helpful!

The ITB is a thick band of fascia (the stuff that holds you together) that runs from the top of the pelvis all the way down the outside of the thigh to the top of the tibia, just past the knee. The ITB supports the hip and knee joints and provides anchor points for the muscles in your hips.

People like to roll out their ITB because feels like it would help to loosen up any tightness in the outer hip and leg, but a study from the University of Melbourne shows that this isn’t so. The ITB does not stretch, so you really can’t loosen it up. Moreover, the ITB cannot be separated from the other parts of the outer thigh because it is actually part of a larger fascial structure that covers the entire area. So you are tormenting yourself needlessly…

Instead, focus on stretching the muscles that control the ITB: the tensor fasciae latae and the gluteus maximus. These two muscles in your butt and outer hip can get very tight and pull on the ITB, making it feel tight. Here are some good stretches for the TFL and glutes from our Get Bent and Bendy Body videos:

1.     Figure Four Stretch: Lie on your back and bring your knee in to your chest, then externally rotate your leg so that your foot moves in towards your chest as your knee moves away. You can use your hands to move your leg or bring your opposite knee in to support the ankle.

1.     Figure Four Stretch: Lie on your back and bring your knee in to your chest, then externally rotate your leg so that your foot moves in towards your chest as your knee moves away. You can use your hands to move your leg or bring your opposite knee in to support the ankle.

2.   Pigeon: This is a slightly more intense version of the figure four stretch. The front leg should be as close to a right angle as possible. If you can’t get your butt to the floor in this position place a yoga block under your butt to reduce strain on the hip. Slowly lean forward over the front leg.

2.   Pigeon: This is a slightly more intense version of the figure four stretch. The front leg should be as close to a right angle as possible. If you can’t get your butt to the floor in this position place a yoga block under your butt to reduce strain on the hip. Slowly lean forward over the front leg.

3.    Cross body hamstrings stretch: Lying on your back, use your hands or a strap to pull your straight leg towards your face. Then, keeping your hips still, move your foot slightly across your body until it is over the opposite ear. You can move the leg around a little here working to find the tightest part of your hip. This should create a strong stretch in the outside of the hip!

3.    Cross body hamstrings stretch: Lying on your back, use your hands or a strap to pull your straight leg towards your face. Then, keeping your hips still, move your foot slightly across your body until it is over the opposite ear. You can move the leg around a little here working to find the tightest part of your hip. This should create a strong stretch in the outside of the hip!

4.    Supine Twist: Lying on your back, pull your leg into your chest and then let it fall across your body towards the floor keeping the opposite shoulder on the floor. Then start to bring the leg dedper into flexion, as if you were going to stick your toes into your ear. You may feel the pull of the stretch all the way down the outside of the top leg as well as in the hip.

4.    Supine Twist: Lying on your back, pull your leg into your chest and then let it fall across your body towards the floor keeping the opposite shoulder on the floor. Then start to bring the leg dedper into flexion, as if you were going to stick your toes into your ear. You may feel the pull of the stretch all the way down the outside of the top leg as well as in the hip.

 

Please note that this does not mean that you shouldn’t roll out other areas, especially the glutes and hips. Rolling out muscles and joints can be very helpful in relieving tension in other parts of your body, but you never have to subject yourself to IT Band rolling again!