Where is your pain? If it’s centered mostly at the outside of your knee, then it could be IT band syndrome. You don’t have to be a runner or cyclist to experience the unique pain of this condition. Any daily activity that causes you to repeatedly flex your knee can potentially lead to it.
Recommended treatments include rest, anti-inflammatories and maybe even steroid injections. But many athletes and exercisers have found that foam rolling is an effective remedy. Plus, they are already using the roller as a part of their pre and post-workout routines.
Here is a comprehensive look at how to best relieve pain associated with the IT band by using a roller.
IT Band Anatomy
Your iliotibial (IT) band is not a muscle, although it might feel that way when the pain strikes. It is actually a band of fibrous connective tissue (or fascia) going down the outside of your thigh from hip to knee. It helps to stabilize your knee and allows you to move your hip in various directions.
The IT band has a very important function in running, moving continuously from behind to in front of the femur (the longest and strongest bone in your body located at the front of your thigh). This repeated motion can cause friction and that friction can lead to inflammation of the IT band or IT band syndrome.
IT Band Pain
If you regularly run, cycle, do squats or any other form of aerobic activity then chances are you have experienced IT band syndrome. The pain comes from overuse, failure to warm up sufficiently before exercise and poor physical condition. Additionally, while you may begin your activity pain free, the pain begins as you continue to move and in most cases worsen with continued movement.
Some of the more common symptoms of the condition include.
- Pain located on the outside of the hip or knee
- A stinging sensation in the area located just above your knee or running from hip to knee, along the path of the IT band
- Pain when your knee is bent for long periods as when cycling or when the knee is twisted at an angle as when walking around a corner
- Swelling or thickening where the IT band passes over your femur
- A “snapping” pain in your hip as the IT band passes over the hip bone in its motion forwards and backwards around the femur
- Pain when you run or walk as the landing foot hits the ground
Relieving A Painful IT Band With Foam Roller Exercises
The pain and discomfort from IT band syndrome may be eased when you allow the area to rest. Another good way to get relief is by doing gentle stretches and flexibility exercises that target the IT band. Injections of cortisone (a steroid) may speed healing and break up scar tissue but it carries the risk of weakened tendons and ligaments.
Step 1: Don't Roll The IT Band Directly
Many people get much needed relief from IT band pain by using a foam roller, although it is not normally advised that you directly work on your IT band while it is inflamed. Doing so might make the condition worse. So, don’t roll directly up and down the IT band!
Instead of directly rolling an inflamed IT band (a very painful practice indeed) try aiming for the muscles that connect to it instead. These include the muscle along the outside of your hip and gluteus maximus in your buttocks.
Step 2: Roll Your Glutes
Sit on the roller so that it meets your butt at the top of the glute muscle. You will be working one side at a time, so cross one of your legs over the other. Lean slightly into the leg being worked and slowly roll your bottom backwards and forwards over the roller. It is a movement of just a few inches either way, so be careful not to fall off! Repeat the movement a few times then switch to working the other leg.
Step 3: Lateral (Side) Hips & Legs
Lie down on your side, positioning the roller so that it is under the area between your pelvis and the front of your upper thigh. Supporting yourself on your arms, roll up then down over the roller a few times. Switch to the other side and repeat the movement.
Step 4: The Power of Consistency (Rinse & Repeat)
IT bands don't get tight or inflamed overnight and rolling them once or twice or just when they're really hurting will have little effect. Instead, make this a regular part of of your daily self-care routine, just like your favorite warm-up or stretches. Foam rolling definitely works but like most things, consistency is key.
Foam rolling is a proven way to give your muscles and surrounding tissues a therapeutic gentle or deep massage. It can warm and loosen up muscles before exercise or speed their recovery afterwards. It is also a big help for relieving IT band syndrome. You just have to ensure that you do it correctly and remember not to roll your IT band directly while it is inflamed. And, of course, do it regularly. You'll get out of it what you put into it.