Stop rolling your IT Band

IT-band

NOVEMBER 2015 – I’m always surprised by the number of runners who say things like “I have tight IT bands, but it is okay because I foam roll them.”

The first problem is the acceptance it is okay to have a chronically ‘tight’ tissue. Under normal circumstances no tissue should hurt or cause discomfort all the time.

The second problem is the idea that massaging what hurts until the end of time is better than actually fixing the cause of the pain.

The IT band, or Iliotibial band, is a strong fibrous stretch of connective tissue that runs from the outside of the hip, down the lateral part of the thigh and attaches to the tibia bone just below the knee. Two muscles, the tensor fascia latae and the gluteus maximus have attachments into this tissue, and by virtue of their attachment can use the IT band to produce and stabilize movement at both the hip and knee.

Here’s why I challenge the long term benefit of foam rolling the IT band.  It is incredibly strong, like a steel-belted tire strong. As a physical therapy student in anatomy class, it took multiple scalpels to cut through them.

Given its structure, it would take an extreme amount of repetitive stress to actually cause this tissue to change on a cellular level. Something far above what most runners will exert on this tissue.

So when an IT band hurts it indicates tissue inflammation and/or failure of the muscle system to efficiently dissipate forces. The odds of an IT band actually being short are very low.  Even if it was short, the idea that a foam roller is going to “stretch it out” fails to address the underlying cause of the problem.

You might be thinking, “I roll my IT band and I know it works.”

Don’t get me wrong, rolling out an IT band can have short-term benefits. In doing this you apply stretching forces to the muscles attaching to the band, which can change how the muscle fires in the short run.

You also apply direct force to the muscles below the IT band and can change their function as well for a short period of time.

In fact, these are strategies I prescribe in therapy for their short term benefit but always in conjunction with a strategy to address the underlying cause.

For example, the gluteus medius and/or gluteus maximus may not be doing their job to control single-leg alignment during the contact phase of running.

Specific and active muscle training is required to optimize muscle function and improve your running efficiency.

So if you’re constantly rolling out your IT bands, think deeper. That kind of massage is fine for short-term management, but for long-term relief and injury prevention you must work on your movement patterns.

If you aren’t sure how to do this on your own, find a physical therapist you can trust and make an appointment!

Article by Scott Moreland, DPT. Scott is a physical therapist and movement specialist at CORE Strategies Physical Therapy, Sport Performance & Medical Fitness in Overland Park. The CORE team specializes in rehabilitation and performance training for clients of all ages and activity levels. To learn more about CORE’s sport specific programs visit www.coreptkc.com.  Contact Scott at scott@coreptkc.com.

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