Foam rollers are one of the most popular tools for recovery available today, and one of their biggest uses is to roll out the iliotibial (IT) band to treat IT band syndrome. But does the "foam roll IT band" strategy really work?
In this article you will learn more about IT band syndrome, whether or not you should foam roll the IT band, and the most effective ways to manage your IT band syndrome long-term.
Your IT band is a long, thick band of connective tissue that runs from the top of your hip to the side of your knee. When it's working properly, your IT band helps stabilize your lower body and control movement.
However, when your IT band is pulling or rubbing too much on the outside of your knee, it can lead to irritation, sensitivity to touch, and painful knee motion. This is called IT band syndrome.
The symptoms of IT band syndrome can vary, but here are some of the most common symptoms:
If you're experiencing these symptoms, it's possible that you might be dealing with IT band syndrome.
Although it might look like a standalone unit, your IT band is actually connected to your TFL (tensor fasciae latae) muscle, outer quad muscle, outer hamstring muscle, and glute muscles. This means that problems with the muscles surrounding your IT band can actually lead to problems with the IT band itself.
While IT band syndrome is classically described as a problem that only happens to athletes and runners, it can actually happen to adults of any age with any number of different occupations and hobbies.
This is especially true for those of us who sit or stand all day. Whether lounging on the couch and working from home, or standing at a work counter or stand up desk, muscles around your IT band can become tight, weakened, and imbalanced, leading to the feeling of a tight and uncomfortable IT band.
Which brings us to our next point: your IT band doesn't actually become "tight." This is because the IT band is such a dense and sturdy band of tissue that it actually can't change length to become tight in the first place. Instead, what often happens is the muscles and other tissue connecting to the IT band become tight, causing problems with how your IT band functions.
There are many treatments available for IT band syndrome, but not all of them work. We'll cover some of the most important things that you can start right now to improve your IT band syndrome for the long term.
Although foam rolling is a very popular recovery tool, there are a lot of myths when it comes to using a foam roller on your IT band for optimum results. Here are a few of the most common myths and facts when you foam roll IT bands.
Myth: Discomfort while foam rolling the IT band is caused by the IT band itself.
Fact: Discomfort is most often caused by your outer quadricep muscle (the vastus lateralis), which sits directly beneath your IT band.
Myth: You need to put your full body weight on the foam roller for it to be effective.
Fact: Your full body weight is often too much pressure, especially depending on your body weight and build, which can cause severe pain and takes away from your rolling precision.
Myth: Pain is required to effectively roll out the IT band (this one is really popular!).
Fact: Foam rolling your IT band area can be uncomfortable while relieving built-up tension, but it should not cause you severe pain due to excessive pressure.
People have become accustomed to using traditional foam rollers and balancing their entire body weight onto the roller, so they think that the intense pain often caused by this technique is normal or even necessary. However, you may actually cause more inflammation and muscle soreness, which can delay your recovery after exercise and slow your progress with treating your IT band syndrome. Unfortunately, this is commonly recommended by people on the internet who want to advertise "breaking up scar tissue", which is not possible in a single session with a foam roller.
When done correctly, foam rolling around your IT band can offer a lot of benefits such as increased blood flow, improved range of motion, reduced muscle soreness, and better muscle recovery after exercise. What matters most is that you do it properly, and with the right equipment.
Not all rollers are created equal, and those of us dealing with IT band syndrome need the best tools available to get optimal results. Enter DoubleUP Roller.
In short, DoubleUP Roller is a recovery device specially designed to help you massage the muscles connected to your IT band more effectively without the typical challenges of a standard foam roller. DoubleUP gives you the precision and control that you need to reach even the most elusive areas along your IT band.
What does that mean? When you are foam rolling the muscles around your IT band, having control over the exact angle and amount of pressure is important. It allows you to target the specific parts of the muscles that are causing more tension without applying excessive pressure and causing pain. Thanks to the narrower diameter of DoubleUP's rollers and its unique 3:1 leverage, you can work on hard-to-reach areas, like the top of your quadriceps and your lower glute, much more easily than with a traditional roller. Rather than being at the mercy of gravity and body weight for rolling pressure, with DoubleUP you effortlessly control rolling pressure from the handles.
Additionally, DoubleUP Roller's design means that you can target these muscles without lying on top of the roller on the floor. This is invaluable for those with shoulder, elbow, or lower back injuries or discomfort who seek a more comfortable method to foam roll the IT band area. With DoubleUP's superior convenience and control, along with less energy wasted compared to a traditional foam roller, you are more likely to stick to your recommended therapy to help you recover more effectively.
Using the DoubleUP roller to reach areas like your TFL (tensor fascia latae), glutes, quadriceps, and hamstrings is easy and intuitive. Here is a guide that includes a series of demonstration videos showing recommended muscle rolling techniques for each target area.
Standing upright and holding the handles in both hands, open the DoubleUP frame and hold it in front of you, so one roller is on the outside of your upper thigh (outer quadricep), and the opposite roller is on the inside of your thigh (inner quadricep). Gently squeeze both handles and slowly move the roller up and down as you slowly rotate the frame towards the outside of your body as you continue to roll up and down. This will allow the rollers to sweep across your entire quadriceps group. Adjust the rolling pressure based on sensitivity and tightness, and feel free to focus on any trouble areas that you discover. Then rotate the frame back in the opposite direction (as you continue to roll) to sweep back across the quads again.
The matching pair of Medium rollers is an ideal choice for this technique. Although if you feel that you need more intensity, you can try either the firm Ribbed or firm Bumpy roller. And if your hamstrings are sensitive on the back of your thigh, you can load a Soft roller to cushion that area while you isolate the quads in front.
Standing upright and holding the handles in both hands, open the DoubleUP frame and rotate it to the side so the front roller is along the very front of your thigh and the back roller is on the very back of your thigh. Gently squeeze both handles and slowly move the roller up and down along your hamstring muscles, applying more pressure as needed.
Similar to your quadriceps, it may be helpful to rotate the rollers slightly to target your inner or outer hamstring muscles more specifically. You can also change the roller pairings if you find that you desire either more intensity or more cushioning on either side.
Standing upright and holding the handles in both hands, open the DoubleUP frame and position it so that the outside roller is along the upper outer area of your hip (just above the bony bump near the top), and the opposite roller is on the inside of your leg, as high as possible in your groin area. Gently squeeze both handles and slowly move the outer roller up and down along the TFL muscle, applying more pressure as needed. The inside roller will remain mostly stationary and act as a pivot. You will be tilting the frame as you roll with the outer roller using this technique.
Standing upright and holding the handles in both hands, open the DoubleUP frame and position it so that the back roller is along the back of your hip (covering your glute muscles) and the front roller is on the opposite side of your hip (covering your hip flexor muscle). You may need to lower the front handle (tilt it forward) in order to allow the rear handle and roller to rise up to the desired target on your glutes. Gently squeeze both handles and slowly move only the rear roller up and down along the glutes, applying more pressure as needed. Depending on your strength and flexibility, you may find it easier to apply pressure on the down strokes rather than the up strokes when rolling the glutes.
DoubleUP's firm Ribbed roller option is ideal for rolling the glutes, because the tall rib can dig into the subcutaneous fat to reach the muscle tissue. Load the Ribbed roller on the axle with the tall rib closest to the quick-release button. This will provide maximum reach to position the rib in the desired areas of your glutes. Normally, you can use a smooth Medium roller as the opposite roller that rests against your hip flexor. If you require extra cushioning, you can load a Soft roller instead.
Although muscle rolling may seem harmless, there are a lot of ways to foam roll incorrectly, which can slow down or even reverse your recovery. Here's a few important things to keep in mind:
Keeping your IT band and the surrounding muscles healthy isn't always an easy task, so it's helpful to have additional tools in your toolkit beyond just the "foam roll the IT band" approach so you can feel comfortable knowing what techniques work best for you.
In addition to strengthening and stretching the muscles of your hip and thigh, you can go further up or down the chain to your calf and core.
Ultimately, what you spend most of your day doing has a bigger effect on your IT band health than a few minutes of exercise. Meaning that making lifestyle changes can reap the most benefit when recovering from IT band syndrome. These can be as simple as taking more walking breaks during your workday, getting a new pair of running shoes, or swapping out one of your normal workout days for a stretch and roll session.
Your IT band is anything but simple, and living with IT band syndrome can be daunting even for the most dedicated athletes. But with the right knowledge, lifestyle changes, and helpful tools like DoubleUP Roller, you can relieve the symptoms of your IT band syndrome more easily and stay active on your own terms.
Your health is in your hands, and making the most of your recovery is a continuous learning process. Whether your strategy is to go the foam roll IT band route or stick to other techniques, stay positive and don't be afraid to ask for help along the way!