How to stretch your IT band
Your IT band – formally known as the Iliotibial band or tract – is a thick fibrous band of tissue that stretches from the outside of the hip to the outside of the knee. During physical exercise, It serves a vital role, as a stabiliser for the knee. The IT band is activated virtually any time you aren’t stationary, and as a result, it’s prone to injury. This means correct warm-ups and stretching routines are essential. Read on for our guide to the best IT band stretches.
What is IT band syndrome?
Before we get into the stretches themselves, let’s clarify what they’re protecting against: IT band syndrome. Often caused by overuse, predominantly through endurance-based sports such as long-distance running or cycling, IT band syndrome is when the IT band becomes inflamed, usually resulting in knee pain. Those who run or cycle are especially susceptible to IT band syndrome.
Physical characteristics such as a strong pelvic tilt, legs of different lengths, or bow-leggedness will increase a person’s likelihood of developing the condition. If any of these apply to you, knowing how to stretch your IT band is essential. While we cannot guarantee that stretching will keep you injury-free, it’ll certainly reduce your risk of developing IT band syndrome.
Seated Hip Stretch
Sit on the floor with your left leg extended straight in front of you. Next, place your right foot flat on the floor to the left of (outside) your left knee - your right knee should be bent and pointing to the sky. Twist your torso to the right, placing your right hand on the floor for support, and gently hold your right knee in place using your left hand; twist until you feel a stretch in the IT band of your right (bent) leg. Hold this position for 20 seconds, then perform the stretch on the other leg. Repeat for a total of two stretches on each side.
A key consideration to remember with all the stretches featured on this list is that you should feel a stretch, not pain. If you experience pain in your IT band when performing these stretches, it’s likely that you’re stretching too far. When this is the case, you should reduce the intensity of the stretch. Another indicator of over-stretching is shaking – the limb in question should be able to be held still and steady.
Lying Knee to Shoulder Stretch
As the name suggests, this stretch takes place lying on your back. While lying down, bend your left knee up towards you and hold it from underneath with both hands. Then, pull it towards your right shoulder until you feel a gentle stretch in the IT band on your left (bent) leg. You shouldn’t need to pull too hard in order to feel a stretch, so don’t overdo it.
Hold for 20 seconds before you switch legs, this time pulling your right knee towards your left shoulder. Perform this stretch twice with each leg.
Standing Cross-Legged Stretch
Here’s another stretch which requires no equipment or furniture.It does however require more balance and core strength than the previous two stretches.
Stand up and cross each leg over the other at the knee so that your left leg passes behind your right leg, your left foot is on your right, and your right foot is now on the left. For this next part, take it slow and steady to avoid overstretching or injuring yourself. Bending slightly at the waist, lean down to the right Keep your arms loose and aiming down towards the floor. Shift the weight in your hips and feel a stretch in the IT band of your left leg.
You may feel a bit like a ragdoll here, and it’s an unorthodox position to be it, but it’s an excellent stretch for your IT band. Hold for 20 seconds, take a breath since the blood may have rushed to your head a little, and proceed to stretch the other side. This time, your right leg should be behind your left, and you’ll be leaning to your left. Make gentle, controlled movements throughout this stretch.
Tip: don’t worry if the above method is too difficult balance-wise. Follow the exact same steps with your back propped against a wall. You should be able to stretch even further this way but stop increasing the stretch before it becomes painful!
Lying Rope or Towel Stretch
You guessed it, for this stretch you’ll need, a rope, long towel or resistance bands. Lie down on your back and bring your left leg up and towards you. Place the rope around the bottom of your foot and hold both ends of the rope in one hand. Next, straighten your leg whilst keeping the rope on the bottom of your foot (you may need to loosen your grip a little). Then, keeping your leg straight, move your leg to the right so that your left foot is almost on the floor. Your right leg should be extended straight ahead of you so that your legs form an ‘L’ shape. The rope is there for stability - this is a somewhat awkward position after all.
You should now feel a stretch in the IT band of your left leg. Hold this position for 20 seconds before switching legs, and perform it twice on each side.
Admittedly, this is less of a stretch and more of a recovery exercise, but it’s very worthwhile for your IT band so we had to include it. To perform this exercise, you’ll obviously need a foam roller.
Place the foam roller on the floor and position yourself so that you’re on your side and the IT band of your left leg is on top of the roller. Your right leg will be rested upon your left leg, your arms and the foam roller will be supporting your weight. Next, use your arms to manoeuvre your body back and forth so that your entire IT band rolls over the foam roller. See the image at the top of this page for guidance.
Be careful not to place too much weight on your IT band because it may damage the muscles below it. Gently roll back and forth for 20 seconds with each leg, twice per leg.
This exercise will help to relieve tension in your IT band, increase blood flow to the area, and may even increase your range of motion temporarily. Think of it as a type of massage for your IT band.
So there you have it, our tips on stretching your IT band. This guide and our overall approach to injury is that prevention is better than cure. Warming up correctly before exercise and performing the stretches above will help to reduce your risk of injury. Find out more about IT band syndrome (why stretching your IT band is so important) and how to treat it on our Injury Advice page.
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