The Best Ways to Stretch Your IT Band

I thought today I’d write about a common problem for runners, and that is having an IT band that it too tight. Not that I’ve had any problems with an IT band before… just kidding, mine was too tight and causing minor problems a couple of weeks ago, and so I thought I’d share how I quickly got over that hurdle and the best ways to stretch your IT band.

What Is It?

First things first, before you can stretch out your IT band, you need to be sure that is the cause of the problem. Your IT band is a thick band of fascia that starts at the hip, runs along the other thigh, and is attached to the outside edge of the shin bone (tibia) just below the knee-joint. It’s also important to not get the IT band to lose, as the band works with the quadriceps (front thigh muscles) to provide stability to the outside of the knee during activity, especially during running.

A simple test you can do to see if it’s a problem is this:

Stand on one leg (problem leg), and try bending it to a 90-degree angle, if it’s your IT band you’ll make it nowhere near that perfect angle before a sharp, paralyzing pain goes erupts from your outer thigh, from your hip to your knee.

Once you pick yourself back off the floor and stop crying, continue reading to see how to fix the pain.

What Causes It?

Some things can cause your IT band to be too tight, the most common reasons are:

  • Running on horizontally banked surfaces (ex: should or a road, or indoor track) which cause the downhill leg to bend inward slightly, causing extreme stretching of the band against the femur.
  • Not properly warming-up or cooling-down
  • Excessive uphill or downhill running
  • Muscle imbalances (weak hip abductors, weaker quadriceps on problem leg, shin splints)
  • Excessive lower-leg rotation due to over-pronation
  • Excessive foot-strike force (heel striking)
  • Muscles that are too tight (hip abductors, quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, lower back, they all connect and only takes one to be too tight to pull others out-of-place).

What Are The Symptoms:

Symptoms that come along with an irritated IT band, that are common:

  • Tender to the touch of outside thigh
  • Pain on the outside of the hip and/or knee
  • Swelling on outside thigh, around hip, and/or knee
  • Pain that mostly disappears with stretching the band out, or with rest.

How to Fix it:

My preferred method for stretching and getting loosened up after a workout is foam rolling. I’ve found foam rolling to be much more efficient at loosening tight muscles than stretching, and in about half the time.

Foam Rolling it Out:

Depending on just how tight your IT band is, this could either feel like your being repeatedly stabbed in the outer thigh, or similar to the pain caused by hitting your hip off a table, it still hurts, but not as bad.

I find it easiest to get into position by doing a side plank. You’re going to want to place the foam roller on your left mid outer thigh, with your left leg on the roller, your right leg bent, and over your left leg at the knee. Plus your arms will be straight and hold you up, and then roll your outer left thigh on the foam roller for about 45-60 seconds. Then repeat on the other leg.

Stretch #1:

I add this stretch to the end of my warm-up, and then I do it again about mid-run if I’m starting to feel a little too tight.

This is super easy to add to your warm-up, and/or cool-down because you can do it while standing without a wall. Stand with your feet about hip-width apart. Cross your left leg over your right leg to a comfortable position, than lean-to your left without bending your legs, you should be able to feel a gentle stretch on your outer right thigh. Repeat with your right leg over your left, and leaning to your right.

Stretch #2:

I did this stretch three times a day for a week, but by the third day, my pain and tenderness to the touch was gone.

For this one, you’re going to want to lay on the ground on your back. Bend your left leg, and bring your knee to your chest. Grab your leg and push it toward your right shoulder. You should feel a slight stretch on the outer thigh. Hold for 20 seconds, and then completely release, and repeat two more times. Then repeat on your other leg.

Plus the best part about this stretch you can do it while in bed when you first wake up, and before you go to sleep.

What to Do While Treating IT Band Pain:

Treating IT band pain typically includes the following:

  • R.I.C.E: Rest, ice, compression, and elevation is the best way to treat initial IT band pain
  • Reduced Activity: Runners, hikers, or cyclists should reduce running/training and be on high alert for signs of over-training.
  • Foam Roller Myofascial Release: Using a foam roller to realize the tissues, can be painful, but many athletes have great success with using a foam roller.
  • Rest and Recovery: Taking rest days are crucial for letting your body recover and shouldn’t be overlooked with any training program.
  • Anti-inflammatory medications: May be used to reduce pain and swelling

How to Prevent It:

Of course with anything, it’s better to prevent it than ever have to deal with it, but usually, we must first address before we than try to keep it from happening again.

Once you get the IT band all loosened up, you’re going to want to start leg strengthen exercises. Such as:

  • Outer and inner thigh lifts
  • Squats
  • Lunges
  • Donkey kicks
  • Side lunges

Pretty much anything to help strengthen those muscles. Another good thing to incorporate into your routine is backward running, and before you go “have you lost it?” the answer is probably yes, but trust me on this. One of the hardest muscles to work is your hamstrings (back thigh muscles), which is exactly what backward running works.

Start slow, ease into it by walking, then gradually picking up the pace. I do 60 seconds backward running, 60 seconds forward walking, and repeat 5-8 times. It truly does work your legs in an entirely new way, so just try it before you write it off completely.

Also take rest days, I know that rest days are the worse, especially when all you want to do is a workout. However, your body needs the rest. Your muscles need a break to repair all those micro tears so that they can be faster, stronger, and better than before. So please, remember to take those rest days

What are your favorite stretches, and leg exercises?

Ally Gonzales is the founder & editor-in-chief of RunningSoleGirl. Along with blogging she is also juggling attending college and majoring in Exercise and Sports Science.

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