I think its time to stir up a little controversy and conversation here in the ASM Wellness Blog. Not negative controversy…just intellectual controversy and polite conversation. I thought I would start with a repost of a topic I covered on my blog, SquareMassage.com: Foam Rolling the Iliotibial (IT) Band.
Foam rolling – also called Self Myofascial Release or SMR – is the self-administered release of tension in soft tissues. I don’t care what you call it…as long as you don’t call it ineffective. There is a plethora of scientific and anecdotal evidence to suggest that foam rolling works. That may be why I’ve even seen foam rollers in Best Buy! If you run or cycle a lot, there’s a chance that you do or will have some IT band discomfort at some point. Frankly, if you are alive, there’s a reasonable chance that you will have some imbalance in your TFL/Glutes. So foam-rolling should be included in your self care regimen, but don’t waste your time working directly on the IT band! I assert that instead of foam rolling the actual IT band, the most benefit is derived from working to strengthen and stretch the muscles surrounding it. Below you’ll find the meat of my original post, and a video made by and “starring” a colleague and all-around nice guy, Kyle Stull NASM-CPT, CES, LMT that supports my assertion. Without further ado…DON’T foam roll your IT band!
The IT band is the source of grief for many people. As a form or self-therapy, many professionals in fitness and bodywork therapies will instruct clients to foam roll their IT band. Foam rolling hurts, but since no pain means no gain, it must be doing some good, right? Maybe, but probably not so much for the actual IT band. The vastus lateralis (member of the quadriceps group), which resides largely underneath the IT band, could actually derive the most benefit from foam rolling directly on top of the IT Band. However, what else this does, is manage to mash the IT band into that vastus lateralis and help them get even more stuck together than they already are…thus causing further tension in that area. In order to understand this process better, let’s take a look at what the IT band actually does.
The IT band is pretty much just tendon. It doesn’t do any contracting – it transfers the contractile forces of the muscles that feed into it. Those muscles are the tensor fascia latae (TFL) and gluteus medius and maximus (see illustration). Foam rolling will not prompt significant release of the tension in the IT band.The trick is to focus on the muscles that pull on the IT band and give it its tension. As those muscles tighten and pull on the IT band, the IT band is pulled taut against quadricep muscle (vastus lateralis). Eventually, the IT band can get stuck to the quadricep by way of their connective tissue becoming intertwined.
What I propose: getting the IT band unstuck from the underlying muscle and fascia, through massage, in addition to releasing the glutes and TFL through massage or foam rolling. This has proven to be highly effective for my clients with IT band issues. So, if you are having IT band issues, and if foam rolling directly on the IT band hasn’t been helping, use the video below as a visual guide for how to get that foam roller into your TFL and Glutes effectively.