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4 IT Band Stretches and Exercises

Published July 16, 2019 (Revised: May 30, 2020) Read Time: 7 minutes
Ben Kissam

Written By: Ben Kissam, BS

Ben has a B.S. in Movement and Sports Science and over 7 years Certified Personal Training Experience.

<script type="application/ld+json"> { "@context":"", "@type":"BlogPosting", "author": { "@type": "Person", "name": "Ben Kissam, BS" }, "publisher": { "@type": "Organization", "name": "Warrior Made", "logo": { "@type": "ImageObject", "url": "", "image": "" } }, "headline":"4 IT Band Stretches and Exercises", "datePublished":"2019-07-16", "dateModified": "2020-05-30", "description":"If the outside of your thigh hurts, you could have a tight IT band. Here's how you can tell, as well as 4 awesome IT band stretches you can do right at home.", "image": "" } </script> <script type="application/ld+json"> { "@context": "", "@type": "FAQPage", "mainEntity": [{ "@type": "Question", "name": "What is an IT Band?", "acceptedAnswer": { "@type": "Answer", "text": "The term IT band is short for your iliotibial band, which is a long piece of connective tissue that runs along the outside of both thighs." } }, { "@type": "Question", "name": "How does the IT band get tight?", "acceptedAnswer": { "@type": "Answer", "text": "The most common type of IT band injury is an overuse injury known as iliotibial band friction syndrome (ITFS). In general, the term overuse injury is used to describe movement-related injuries that are caused by too much exercise (or not enough recovery)." } }] } </script> <article> <div> <ul> <li><a href="#section1">What Is An IT Band?</a></li> <li><a href="#section2">How Does The IT Band Get Tight?</a></li> <li><a href="#section3">The 4 Best IT Band Stretches</a></li> <li><a href="#section4">How To Help IT Band Pain Heal</a></li> </ul> </div> <section> <p>Are you experiencing pain in the outside of your thigh?</p> <p>If so, there's a good chance you're dealing with an IT band, or <i>iliotibial band</i>, problem.</p> <p>This piece of connective tissue—which runs from your hip to your knee—is one of the most common lower body injuries. Not surprising, as it is used in many exercise-related movements.<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">1</a></sup></p> <p>Fortunately, rest and light exercise are both good for helping alleviate the pain you're feeling.</p> <p><i>However</i>, there's a possibility that your outer thigh pain could stem from other things besides your IT band. </p> <p>In this article, we'll show you how to properly assess if your IT band is the problem, and teach you 4 stretches and exercises you can do anywhere using no equipment to alleviate pain.</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section id="section1"> <h2>What is an IT Band?</h2> <p>The term 'IT band' is short for your <i>iliotibial band</i>, which is a long piece of connective tissue that runs along the outside of both thighs.<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">2</a></sup></p> <p>In terms of lower body movement, the IT band is crucial. This is because it helps with:</p> <ul> <li>Hip extension (necessary for riding a bike and performing many <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">glute-activation</a> exercises)</li> <li>Hip abduction (allowing you to swing your leg sideways, like when you get out of your bed or car)</li> <li>Lateral hip rotation (important for walking and general hip mobility)</li> </ul> <p>And because it runs from your hip to your knee, it's common to feel pain in one or both of these joints when the IT band gets tight.<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">3</a></sup></p> <p>That's why it's important to keep this tissue loose and pain-free—many exercises and daily activities may become painful if it becomes (and remains) inflamed.</p> <p>Unfortunately, pain and injuries in this area are somewhat common—up to 12 percent of people who exercise deal with IT band issues related to exercise.<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">4</a></sup></p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section id="section2"> <h2>How does the IT band get tight?</h2> <p>The most common type of IT band injury is an overuse injury known as <i>iliotibial band friction syndrome (ITFS)</i>.<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">5</a></sup></p> <p>In general, the term overuse injury is used to describe movement-related injuries that are caused by too much exercise (or not enough recovery).<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">6</a></sup></p> <p>Applying that to the IT band, ITFS means your iliotibial band starts rubbing up against the slightly pointed edge of your femur (the <i>lateral femoral condyle</i>) during exercise.<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">7</a></sup></p> <p>The friction causes tissue inflammation (swelling) along the connective tissue, which can lead to pain and discomfort throughout the entire length of the band*.</p> <p><i>*However, it's important to understand that while IT band injuries are common, they aren't always the cause of outer thigh pain. Exercise #1 below will help you assess whether or not your IT band needs attention.</i></p> <h3>Causes of IT band pain</h3> <p>Repetitive physical activities, like running, walking and biking are the most common types of activities that lead to ITFS.<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">8</a></sup></p> <p>Other problems and risk factors include:</p> <ul> <li>Not warming up before exercise <sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">9</a></sup></li> <li>Exercising <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">too many days</a> in a row without a day off</li> <li>Being female (women are statistically more likely to suffer from IT band injuries) <sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">10</a></sup></li> <li>Running or walking down steep hills <sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">11</a></sup></li> <li>Tight/weak glutes or <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">hamstrings</a> <sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">12</a></sup></li> </ul> <p>On a more promising note, IT band injuries generally heal at a high percentage—usually more than 90 percent of the time.<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">13</a></sup></p> <p>Rest and light stretching or exercise (see the next section for ideas) are the two best ways to alleviate pain caused by friction and/or swelling.<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">14</a></sup></p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section id="section3"> <h2>The 4 best IT band stretches and exercises</h2> <p>Here are the 4 best IT band stretches and exercises you can do at home to alleviate tightness or pain.</p> <p>At the bottom of this section, you'll find a step-by-step 2 week guide to help you get rid of IT band pain or tightness. Check with your primary physician and then give this guide a try!</p> <img style="max-width:100%;" class="img-fluid" src="" alt="it band stretches"> <h3>1. IT band/groin stretch test</h3> <p>IT band injuries are common, but other things can cause outer thigh pain and tightness, too. </p> <p><i>Inner</i> thigh tightness, or poor hip mobility, could also cause this area to hurt.<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">15</a></sup></p> <p>This first stretch will help you assess whether your IT band needs the attention—then you can progress to the next 3 options. (And if not, you can try these <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">hip mobility exercises</a> instead.)</p> <p><i>*To do this, grab a towel or an exercise band.</i></p> <ul> <li>Lie on your back; place your left heel on the floor (knees bent) and your right leg straight up in the air (if only your left IT band hurts, start there—otherwise you'll test both sides).</li> <li>Place the towel over your foot and grab it on either end, as if you were stretching your hamstring.</li> <li>Bring your leg across your body (right foot to the left side); take note if your shoulders have to come off the ground or if you feel more pain in your outer thigh. </li> <ul><li>If so, your IT band probably needs some work.</li></ul> <li>Return to the top.</li> <li>Now, go the opposite way. Let your right leg fall open (right foot to the right side); take note if your groin or inner thigh feels very tight.</li> <ul><li>If so, it's likely this area that needs attention.</li></ul> </ul> <p>In all likelihood, the <i>tighter of the two</i> (inside or outside) is what's causing your outer thigh to ache. Fortunately, stretch #2 is a great way to solve both issues.</p> <img style="max-width:100%;" class="img-fluid" src="" alt="squat hold it band"> <h3>2. Bottom of a squat hold</h3> <p>Holding the bottom of a squat is a great way to mobilize the muscle tissue in your thighs, hips, glutes, and calves. (It's also a great way to decompress your <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">lower spine</a>.)</p> <p>Start next to a couch or other sturdy object; at first you may want something to grab on to for balance.</p> <ul> <li>Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart; toes pointed at a 45-degree angle.</li> <li>Bending at the hips first and with your arms out for balance, drop down into the bottom of a squat position.</li> <ul><li>Go as low as you can—ideally your thighs go below that of a regular squat (below "parallel") and your thighs can rest on your calves (or get as close as possible).</li></ul> <li>At the bottom, grab onto the couch for balance if you need to.</li> </ul> <p>Stay at the bottom for 2 minutes (you can break it up into sets, or do this throughout the day).</p> <img style="max-width:100%;" class="img-fluid" src=" STRETCH WITH HANDS ON GROUND-SIDE.gif" alt="Spiderman stretch"> <h3>3. Spiderman stretch</h3> <p>Here's a great stretch to add to your warmups while you're treating IT band pain or as part of your rehabilitation routine.</p> <ul> <li>Start at the top of a push-up: body in one straight line, 2 hands, 2 feet touching the floor.</li> <li>Step your left leg forward to your left hand (or as close as you can get).</li> <li>Press your heel into the floor to feel the stretch through your groin and outer thigh; hold for 3 to 5 seconds.</li> <li>Return the leg to where you started, then repeat on the other side.</li> </ul> <p><i>*For a visual cue here, picture spiderman climbing a wall!</i></p> <p>Do 10 total reps, 5 on each side.</p> <img style="max-width:100%;" class="img-fluid" src="" alt="foam roll it band"> <h3>4. Foam rolling/myofascial release</h3> <p>Myofascial release is a self-massaging technique that helps break up tight connective tissue.<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">16</a></sup></p> <p>Remember that the IT band is a ball of connective tissue, which can also be called <i>fascia</i>—a type of thin tissue that wraps around the muscles in your body.<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">17</a></sup></p> <p>When you workout a lot, fascia can get tight and cause restriction of movement or pain during exercise. Gently massaging the area can help loosen this up and reduce your pain.</p> <p>For this, you'll need a foam roller, a tennis ball, a lacrosse ball, or a broom handle.</p> <ul> <li>Roll (or provide pressure with the broom) back and forth gently on the top part of your outer thigh for 30 repetitions. Repeat the same thing on the lower part of your IT band near the knee.</li> </ul> <p>If you've never done this before it might be very painful, especially closer to the knee. Sub in a tennis ball or use a lighter household implement that doesn't put as much pressure on your IT band at first if you need to.</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section id="section4"> <h2>How to help IT band pain heal</h2> <p>Here's the routine you should follow if your IT band is tight or painful:</p> <ul> <li>Start by assessing your outer thigh pain using the IT band/groin stretch test above.</li> <p><i>Which is tighter?</i></p> <ul> <li>If it's your groin and not your IT band, try incorporating some of these <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">hip mobility exercises</a> into your routine (or use the squat hold exercise in #2).</li></ul> <li>If it <i>is</i> your IT band, here's what to do:</li> <ul><li>Hold the bottom of a squat for 2 minutes per day (breaking it up into sets is fine) for the next 2 weeks.</li> <li>Do 10 spiderman stretches (5 on each side) after you practice myofascial release. It's also a good idea to incorporate this stretch into your warmup every time you work out going forward!</li> <li>Practice myofascial release on the outside of your thigh with a foam roller, tennis ball, or lacrosse ball daily for 2 weeks—30 rolls at the top of the IT band, 30 rolls at the bottom twice per day. Be gentle at first.</li></ul> </ul> Remember: IT band injuries are very common, but they are also very treatable and usually subside with rest after 2 to 4 weeks. </p> If your injury is getting worse, give yourself a few days off to let the inflammation go down. Ice might help reduce the swelling.<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">18</a></sup></p> We hope this routine helps and you get back to exercising pain-free soon!</p> </section> </article>

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