Experiencing pain behind the knee and laterally along the leg? You could be suffering from ITB syndrome. The good news is you can use a range of stretches to alleviate pain. Prevent ITB & knee pain with these 5 ITB syndrome exercises.

Today we will go through five stretches using a foam roller to treat ITB syndrome and 5 exercises to prevent ITB syndrome.

What is the IT (Iliotibial Band) Band?

An injury to the iliotibial band, also known as the IT band is one that many endurance athletes such as runners or cyclists fear as it can be extremely painful and debilitating. When it is injured not only can it make exercising extremely difficult, but it can make daily tasks such as walking down a flight of stairs excruciating. 

Let’s talk about what the IT band is, why injuries to that area are so common and then we will chat about some stretches to do to avoid an injury or if you want to alleviate pain.

In a nutshell, your IT band is a dense collection of fibers which begins from the outside of your hips to the exterior of your thigh and knee down to the beginning of your shinbone. When engaging in activities where you bend your knees constantly such as walking, hiking, cycling and running you are more likely to injure your iliotibial band which is why this injury is so common amongst athletes, especially runners.  

What is IT Band syndrome

Usually when you have damaged this body part you will often find a nagging pain on the outer part of your knee which is referred to iliotibial band syndrome, interestingly enough due to the location of the pain, when athletes feel symptoms they often mistaken believe they have a knee injury such as a lateral meniscus tear.

This pain occurs due to friction against the lateral femoral epicondyle- the outer part of the knee joint which is frequently a result of the tensor fasciae latae, a thigh muscle which helps balance the pelvis during standing, walking and running overworks to compensate for under utilized gluteal muscles.

How to prevent ITB syndrome?

patellofemoral pain syndrome stretching

Athletes can protect themselves from this injury by wearing correct running equipment, stretching before exercises and running on flat surfaces. Moreover, it is important to not exert your limits and push yourself too far during endurance activities as this can cause stress to the area. 

A foam roller can help you avoid getting the dreaded IT syndrome, however it is important to use it correctly to ensure you don’t injure yourself. Foam rolling directly on the IT band can actually make the pain more severe as the IT is a tissue, not a muscle.

Due to this, it is better to treat the areas around it such as the calves, hip abductors, hamstrings, glutes and the vastus lateralis.

So now that we’ve explained what the IT Band is, how IT syndrome can occur and why athletes are more likely to get it, let’s delve into how to prevent it and also recover with it by using a foam roller.

ITB Stretches than can be done using a foam roller

Before we move into the foam roller moves for ITB syndrome there is one thing I want to make really clear. Foam rolling does not work unless you stretch immediately afterwards.

This is due to physiology and structure of the muscles. When we roll the muscle groups we are looking to break down dense connective tissue. As we continue to roll the muscle begins to flatten much like rolling doe with a rolling pin.

Muscles of the leg are bipennate and parallel muscles. Both types of muscles are larger in size in the mid point of the muscle body and taper as the muscle moves closer towards the insertion point.

It is due to this shape and formation that the foam rolled muscle can not stay in its flattened form and will return to its original shape making the foam rolling session redundant.

With that being said you may be thinking, why would I even try the 5 foam rolling methods?

Foam rolling is highly effective when we team it with stretching as it breaks down connective tissue allowing you to get deeper into your stretches and gain a deeper muscle release.

Hip Flexor Foam Roller Exercise

The hip flexor is a key group of muscles that play a major role in your ability to move your lower body. They help you do things such as swivel, walk, kick and bend and strengthen these muscles through foam rolling should help reduce your chances of injuring your IT band.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=embed/z4JbDQHJ_2M

How To:

  • So first, lie down on the floor in a forearm plank position with the foam roller underneath your left hip flexor, then bend your right leg to the side.
  • Resting on your forearms, start rolling steadily in an up and down motion and then side on the foam roller while ensuring that you are activating your hip flexor.
  • Continue this exercise for 30 seconds and after transition to your right hip flexor.

Hip Flexor Stretch: Lunge

Following your foam rolling session follow it up with stretching the hip flexors in a lunge position.

How To:

  • From a kneeling position.
  • Bend the knee and bring one leg in front of you.
  • Ensure that your knee is parallel to your ankle.
  • Sink into the hips.

Calves Foam Roller Exercise

In general, this is a great exercise as it loosens up your calves and aids with ankle mobility which can enhance injury prevention to your ankle and performance in sports.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=embed/rpVMZziJeY8

How To:

  • With this exercise, begin sitting on the floor with your legs extended and position the foam roller underneath your calves.
  • Then lift your body up so that your weight is resting on the foam roller. Now position your left leg over your right so that you can exert more pressure.
  • Now carefully roll your right calf side to side on the foam roller, guiding your body back and forth with your arms.
  • Do this exercise for thirty seconds then alternate to your left calf.

Calf Stretch

How To:

  • Face the wall, standing about 2 feet away and place your hands against the wall.
  • Step forward with 1 foot and keep that knee bent slightly.
  • Keep both heels on the ground, while leaning your hips towards the wall.
  • Keep your back leg straight to stretch your calf muscle.
  • Hold this stretch for 20 seconds, repeat 3 times, and switch legs.

Hamstrings Foam Roller Exercise

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=embed/lLswx0vSvtk

How To:

  • Similar to the previous exercise, begin seated on the floor with your legs extended, however now position the foam roller underneath your hamstrings. 
  • Again, pull your body up so that your weight can lie on the foam roller and carefully roll between the back of your knees and your glutes in an upward and downwards motion.
  • Take a bit more time putting pressure on the spots that feel more tender and roll for 30 seconds in total.

When you complete this exercise you are also loosening up the three muscles that are connected to your pelvis, the pubococcygeus, puborectalis and iliococcygeus. This should help with your hip mobility which in return should lower the stress on your lower back.

Hamstring Stretch Forward Fold

How To:

  • Sitting with your legs out in front of you.
  • Inhale lift the spine out of the hips.
  • With a flat back fold forward working your chest towards your shins.
  • Hold for 60 seconds.
  • Return to starting position.

Quad Foam Roller Exercise

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=embed/Ukk_LNN_uPc

How To:

  • Begin again in a forearm plank pose and place the foam roller below the quadriceps.
  • Supporting yourself with your upper body and core, gradually roll down to the area just above your knees. Now begin foam rolling in the other direction up to your hip flexors.
  • Do this for 30 seconds.
  • When you have found a sore spot, hold yourself there and take a couple breaths.

This is a fantastic exercise for the quads as runners and cyclists rely heavily on that muscle. It can also help improve the flexibility of your knee and potentially lower the stress on your knee caps, while also enhancing your hip mobility.

Quad Stretch

How To:

  • From a standing position.
  • Engage your core and slowly begin to bring one leg off the floor.
  • Bend the knee and draw the foot backward with your hand.
  • Repeat on the other side.

Alternatively you can check out my 15 stretches to lengthen the quads.

Glutes Foam Roller Exercise

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=embed/hte5i_qa6UY

How To:

  • Begin by sitting on the floor while keeping your legs straight. 
  • Now use your arms to elevate your glutes, and put the wider side of the roller underneath your glutes, bend one leg and tilt your body so that one cheek is bearing the brunt of your weight.
  • Move your glute up and down across the foam roller and when your 30 seconds is over switch to the other side and continue.

Foam rolling your glutes is helpful as the gluteal muscles are the largest muscle throughout your entire body due to its responsibility of maintaining posture. Having strong glutes enables you walking up large flights of stairs and activities such as running.

Glute Stretch: Deer Pose

How To:

  • Bring the front foot to a right angle.
  • Knee inline with hip, ankle inline with knee.
  • The foot remains flexed to protect the knee.
  • You can leave the back leg unengaged behind you.
  • If you can roll over onto the hip without compromising the angle of your front foot the do so.

ITB Syndrome Exercises

#1 ITB syndrome exercise: Hip Bridge with Resistance Band

An effective yet simple exercise to begin with is the hip bridge utilizing a resistance band.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=embed/91uayvdKAQY

How To:

  • Laying on your back. Place a small heavy to extra heavy resistance band around the thighs.
  • Squeeze the glutes and abductors and lift the hips up high.
  • Return to the starting position.
  • Repeat 15 times.

#2 ITB syndrome exercises: Side Lying Hip Abduction

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=embed/mxWissvKVj0

How To:

  • Laying on your side, the top leg is going to be the leg that you’re strengthening.
  • Hips are stacked straight up towards the ceiling. Your bottom leg can be bent, to help you balance, your top leg is going to be straight with your ankle flexed.
  • Raise your top leg up and slightly behind you.
  • Repeat 15 times on each side.

#3 ITB syndrome exercises: Lateral Band Walk

How To:

  • Standing with your feet hip width apart place a small theraband around the balls of your feet.
  • Coming into a semi squat position take the right leg to the right away from the midline of the body.
  • The left leg follows the right continuing to travel laterally across the room.
  • Repeat on the left side.

#4 ITB syndrome exercises:Side Plank

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=embed/IkMmABQ9SkM

How To:

  • Laying on your side.
  • Elbow below the shoulder, forearm extended to support the body weight.
  • Lift your hips high and engage the legs and glutes.
  • Return to the starting position.
  • Repeat 15 times on each side.

#5 ITB syndrome exercises: The Single-Leg Squat

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=embed/keSzg7MaoVQ

How To:

  • Standing up straight bring the left leg out in front of you so that the heel is off the floor.
  • Engage your core, bring your hands out in front of you for balance and slowly bend the right knee lowering the body as though you are going to sit in a chair.
  • Return to starting position.
  • Repeat 15 times on each side.

** Note the above version is an extreme version of the exercise. If you can only lower 25 degrees that is completely normal. Don’t let the degree of intensity in the video discourage you.

Next Steps

When you believe you have injured your IT band it is important to visit a physician and confirm. 

Moreover, as eager as you might be to workout, you should definitely take a break from doing high endurance activities. The worst thing that you can do when you are hurt is putting more stress on the injured area as it can take longer to heal and cause more severe damage. Your body needs time to recover and now is the time to strengthen the muscles that caused this injury in the first place.

Not being able to do high intensity exercise can be frustrating, especially as it is a tool many use to cope with stress, but you can use this time to take care of yourself by sleeping, eating healthy and meditating while also foam rolling to increase the strength of the muscle groups surround your IT band and ensuring that you don’t injure this body part again.

Did these exercises help your ITB syndrome? Have something to add? I would love to hear about it.

In happiness and health,

Vanessa Barthelmes.

Check out my flexibility classes and online coaching.

Related Articles:

The Best Flexibility Training Tools

9 Yoga Stretches For Tight Calves & Shins

7 Best Stretches For Illiotibial Band Syndrome

3 Relieving Glute Stretches

Resources:

5 things you need to know about your IT band

https://www.runnersworld.com/uk/health/injury/a775743/5-things-you-need-to-know-about-your-it-band

8 Foam Rolling Moves That’ll Remove Every Bit of Stress in Your Body

https://www.healthline.com/health/fitness-exercise/foam-rolling-how-to#Bonus-stretch:-Neck

7 Foam Rolling Exercises Your Body Is Begging You To Do

https://www.womenshealthmag.com/fitness/a19963985/foam-roller-exercises/

The Best Stretches for Tight Hip Flexors

https://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/fitness-hip-flexor-stretches

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