How to Release a Tight IT Band (iliotibial band)
Recently I was reading the messages on a major triathlete forum and found an athlete who was complaining of a tight IT band (iliotibial band) causing pain in his outside knee.
This is such a common running injury that I thought I’d share my response here with the readers of The Flexible Athlete.
It always amazes me when an athlete is in pain and no one gives advice about releasing the muscles that are causing tension in the tendon that inserts into the area of pain. So I do!
If you have a tight IT band that is causing pain in the outside of your knee, stop treating the tight IT band and go to the SOURCE of the pain – the outside of your hip.
I have been working with endurance athletes (especially Ironman triathletes) for over 20 years and I’ve developed a long list of self-treatments for pains throughout the body.
The logic is simple and the treatment I describe below has helped so many athletes that the odds are high that it will help you too!
Here’s the missing piece as to why your tight IT band causes knee pain:
The tendon originates on your tensor fascia lata (TFL) muscle, which is located directly on the outside of your hip (where the side-seam and pocket of your pants is located). When the TFL muscle is in spasm (contains muscle fiber knots) it is pulling on the ITB causing it to feel tight which places a strain on the insertion point on your outer knee.
Think of this simple analogy:
If you pull the end of your hair, it gets taut and your head moves in the direction of the pull. When you pull it really hard, your hair is very tight and your head not only hurts but you can’t move it in the opposite direction. Now you don’t need to massage your scalp, you don’t need to take pain meds or have brain surgery, or exercise any of the muscles that surround the point of pain; the only thing that is going to work is to let go of your hair.
It’s the same thing with muscles everywhere in your body. The muscle merges into a tendon, which crosses over a joint and inserts into a bone. When the muscle contracts it pulls the tendon (making the muscle appear tight) and it pulls on the opposite bone which causes the joint to move. However, if the muscle is in spasm (has knots) when you try to move the joint in the opposite direction, the tight muscle pulls on the tendon and the insertion point at the joint which causes pain at the insertion point.
In the case of a tight IT band, the tensor fascia lata muscle is pulling on the ITB every time you take a step (even when you’re strolling). This repetitive movement ultimately causes the TFL to go into spasm (muscle knots) and you feel it in your outer knee.
Plus, if you feel along the outside of your thigh muscle you will feel the tight tendon – making you think you have a tight IT band. And you do have a tight IT band, but only because the TFL is pulling on it!
Bottom line, you need to release the muscle knots in your tensor fascia lata muscle.
And here’s how you relieve a tight IT band that is causing outer knee pain:
Place a Trigger Point Treatment Ball or a new tennis ball directly onto the muscle. Either lean into a wall or lie down on the floor (as pictured) and press. It’s going to hurt so I suggest you start by standing and then work your way into lying on the floor.
You will also benefit by turning your body slightly so you move a bit toward the front of your body, and then a bit toward the back of your body. You’ll likely find muscle knots all over the area, each one of them is having an impact on your ITB.
Not only does the tensor fascia lata cause a tight IT band but it can also cause hip pain. If you are an athlete and even if you aren’t, this simple treatment will help you release tension in your hip and outer knee joint.
Finish off the treatment by doing this simple stretch. How easy is that!
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