A friend of mine recently asked for a good IT band stretch. Specifically, she wanted to know if some of the hip stretches I’ve been sharing over the past month or so would be good for the IT band.
My friend is a runner. Like most runners she finds that her IT band can get stiff and tight. I promised I would give her some good stretch options, so here goes. Her question came at the perfect time as I was in the middle of a teacher training program last week where I learned all kinds of fun new tricks to help you feel better in your body and live pain-free.
You Can’t Stretch Your IT Band
First things first. You read the heading right. You can’t stretch it. According to Ariel Kiley, a Yoga for Runners specialist and former marathon runner:
“The iliotibial tract (commonly known as IT Band) is a non-contractile sheet of fascia. This means it neither becomes tight, nor does it gain flexibility of its own accord. In order to address the painful tightening along the outer thigh and knees called IT Band Syndrome one must travel higher up the leg to the source of the tissue – the tensor fasciae latae.”
The good news is you can stretch the tensor fasciae latae (TFL).
What the TFL does
To get an idea of when you use your tensor fascia latae and when you stretch it in daily life, here’s a list of the types of actions you might do every day to use this muscle.
- Any time you flex your hip (bring your leg up toward your torso, as in marching), your TFL muscle contracts. When you extend your hip (bring your leg behind you, like in a barre class), the muscle stretches.
- When you internally rotate your hip (thigh moves in toward the center line of the body, as in when you really have to pee and you knock your knees in toward each other as a way to hold it), your TFL contracts. When you externally rotate your hip (open up your leg to kick a soccer ball with the inside of your foot) the TFL stretches.
- Finally, when you abduct your legs (take your legs apart from each other, like when you’re riding a horse), your TFL contracts. When you adduct your legs (bring your legs together like you’re going to cross your legs while seated), your TFL stretches.
In other words, you’re using your TFL ever time you run, cycle, squat, get in a car, or try a karate kick out to the side.
How to Stretch Your TFL
The best way to stretch your TFL is to extend, internally rotate, and adduct your leg. When you loosen your TFL, you’ll reduce the amount of tension in your IT band and hopefully release some of the pain you may be feeling down the side of your leg. Check out this Yoga Tune Up® Leg Stretch #3 and notice how far down your leg you feel relief. The IT Band connects all the way to your tibial tubercle (underneath your knee).
I’m excited to start teaching Yoga Tune Up® in the next couple months in workshops and private lessons. I’ll keep everyone posted on when I start offering classes so that you can come see for yourself how transformational this movement practice can be! Think a blend of yoga and physical therapy, and lots of fun!