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:
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!