IT Band giving you issues?
It’s common to hear runners and hikers talk about having IT band problems, but what exactly is the IT band and why is it such a problem for so many?
Looking at the image, do you see that long and wide white band running down the leg? That’s your IT band!
It starts at the hip and ends below the knee with lots of muscles anchoring into it: glutes (gluteus maximus), quads (Vastus Lateralus), and the tensor fascia latae (TFL).
The muscles that tie into the IT band are what contribute (along with missing motion in your hip) to a lot of issues for hikers and runners.
If the muscles are tight they can pull on the IT band and create excess tension at the hip or knee. The muscles should be able to slide under and around the IT band, but often with active people, that sliding ability diminishes and the muscles stick to the IT band.
With the muscle is sort of “stuck” to the IT band like velcro, pain can develop. This process is typical with active and sedentary people and is a sign that some maintenance is in order.
You are probably keen to change the oil in your car, change the filters and keep air in the tires. It’s basic car maintenance, really. Your body is similar in that it also needs basic maintenance to keep it functioning smoothly.
With basic upkeep using a lacrosse ball, foam roller or other implements of destruction, you can restore the sliding surface and “unstick” the muscle from the IT band.
Can I stretch my IT band?
It’s a common misconception that you can stretch the IT band. Unless you can produce over 2200lbs of force – it ain’t gonna happen. You’d only stretch it 1-2% at that level of force anyhow, so it’s unlikely you’d be doing any good.
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Foam rolling is popular and might do some good, however, it’s not pack friendly. For us, carrying a lacrosse ball a was non-negotiable item on our 2018 thru hike of the PCT and it was used often. Consider keeping one in your arsenal!
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Dr. Starrett uses a lacrosse ball to target the muscles and areas around the knee, along with the seam where the quads. It helps to “unstick” the tissue layers which allows them to glide more freely with movement, which decreases tension and pain.
Watch the short video from Dr. Kelly Starrett, he does a great job of describing the causes of IT band problems and follows up with some stretches and lacrosse ball work that can easily be done on trail.
The real gold is the hip capsule and the muscles that tie into the IT band. If you decrease the tension of the muscles that anchor into the IT band, you create some slack. That slack lessens the tension around the knee and hip, which makes your angry parts feel better.
Of particular note to hikers is the Tensor Fascia Latae or TFL muscle; you can see it in the image above. It will be a workhorse during a hike as it helps to flex the hip – that happens with every step forward you take. This also means its working quite hard as you hike uphill!
Spend some time after your training hikes and jogs targeting the muscles around the IT band. This will benefit your recovery efforts greatly and give you another tool for your toolbox of tricks if things flare up while out on the trail.
You can reach me firstname.lastname@example.org with any injury issues, past or present that you feel will impact your hike. Training questions are also welcome – I am happy to help!