Nearly every patient I see who has pain in the outer thigh, buttock, or outer knee is convinced they have a tight IT Band.
The Iliotibial (IT) Band is the fascial link that runs down the outer thigh, connecting the tendons of the gluteal muscles to a spot just below your knee on the outer shin.
And the IT Band is invariably stiff. The fibers of the IT Band won’t stretch much, even if you exert a strong force to try to elongate them.
If you have pain in a body region, and the connecting tissues are stiff, the natural assumption is that you have to stretch those tissues. That’s why patients want to stretch their IT Band, or lie on a foam roller to soften it.
Unfortunately, this strategy rarely helps. Here’s why:
Stiff is good.
The Iliotibial Band is supposed to be stiff. It has a tough job to do – support the weight of your torso over your legs as you shift weight from side to side. This balancing act happens a lot — every time you take a step. If the IT Band weren’t stiff — if instead it elongated significantly every time you placed a stress on it — it would be useless in controlling your pelvis/hip/thigh alignment.
Stretches for the outer thigh and lying on a foam roller probably have some benefit — at the very least, they give your brain a chance to become better-tuned to the signals coming from this body region.
But the real key to improving your IT Band is acquiring a better pattern of movement — so that when you shift your body weight, you’re engaging core support and freely using the available rotational motion of the hip joint. Then the iliotibial band will be able to do its supporting job with much less stress.
Here’s a picture of what I mean:
Since I am such a gifted artist, no doubt this diagram is crystal clear.
But if for some reason this concept is challenging to grasp, the alternative is an office visit during which we can review these principles in detail and I can make sure that you’re not stressing the iliotibial band the wrong way.