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July 04, 2023 13 min read

You know how frustrating it can be for athletes when they experience sharp pain in their shins, knees, or ankles that brings their training to a sudden halt. One common running injury that causes this kind of pain is Iliotibial Band (IT band) Syndrome. This happens when the IT band becomes inflamed, resulting in a sharp pain that radiates outside the knee and can completely stop you in your tracks.

So, let's talk about your IT band and everything you need to know about it, including some great stretches you can do before and after your workouts to prevent iliotibial band syndrome. We'll also help you identify the symptoms of this debilitating condition.

Iliotibial Band Functions

The IT band, also known as the iliotibial band, is a thick strip of connective tissue that wraps around and supports muscles, organs, and bones. It runs along the outer thigh, from the hip to the knee.

Surprisingly, the IT band is one of the largest pieces of connective tissue in our bodies. When it gets tight or irritated, it can cause discomfort and pain. Although IT band syndrome is often called runner's knee, it can affect those involved in strength training, weightlifting, and even hikers and cyclists.

Here are the main functions of the IT Band:

Stabilization: The IT band is super important for keeping your knee joint steady, especially when you're bending and straightening your leg. It stops your knee from wobbling too much from side to side and helps keep your leg in the right position.

Lateral Support: The IT band is like the wingman for your hip joint, keeping it stable and aligned while you walk or run. It hooks up the tensor fascia latae (TFL) muscle and gluteus maximus muscle to provide that much-needed lateral support.

Friction Reduction: So basically, the IT band is like a helper that reduces friction between muscles and bones. It makes sure there's less rubbing and more smooth movement when the muscles contract and stretch.

Certain exercises and stretches can help prevent a tight IT band or heal ITB syndrome by improving flexibility and strengthening the muscles surrounding your IT band.

IT Band Syndrome Illustration

What is IT Band Syndrome?

IT Band Syndrome, also known as ITBS or iliotibial band syndrome, is a common overuse injury that affects the iliotibial band.

The iliotibial band is a thick band of fibrous tissue that runs down the outside of your thigh. It originates from your gluteal muscles and tensor fascia latae (TFL) and ultimately connects just below your knee to your tibia.

IT Band Syndrome occurs when the iliotibial band becomes irritated and inflamed, resulting in pain and discomfort. The reason behind IT Band Syndrome is not completely known, but it is often caused by the iliotibial band rubbing against the femur during activities that involve bending and straightening the knee.

Some common factors that contribute to this include:

1. Overuse: If you're constantly doing activities like running or cycling that repeatedly move your knee, it's important to take breaks and let your knee rest and recover. Otherwise, you might end up with muscle strain, tendonitis, or IT Band Syndrome.

2. Poor Biomechanics: There are some things that can put extra pressure on the iliotibial band, like the foot rolling inwards too much (pronation), having legs that are different lengths, or having imbalances in the muscles of the hips, thighs, or knees.

3. Training Errors: If you push yourself too hard during workouts without giving your body time to adjust, you can end up straining the iliotibial band and developing IT Band Syndrome.

4. Improper Equipment: If you wear shoes that are old and worn-out or not suitable for the activity, use equipment that doesn't offer the right support or alignment, or workout on surfaces that are not even, you are more likely to increase your chances of getting IT Band Syndrome.

5. Muscle Weakness or Imbalances: When your hip muscles, specifically the gluteus medius, are weak, it can lead to changes in how your body moves and put more strain on the iliotibial band.

If you've got IT Band Syndrome, you'll likely experience a sharp pain that shoots outside your knee and can really put a halt to your activities. If you think you've got IT Band Syndrome, it's best to see a healthcare professional or a sports medicine specialist to get an accurate diagnosis and the right treatment plan.

Best IT Band Stretches

Give these a shot for at least 10 minutes every day. Doing some IT band stretches before and after your workouts can boost your flexibility and lower the chances of getting hurt. They might even be included in stretch routines during physical therapy sessions.

Before Workout

The following dynamic stretches will warm up your IT band and all the related muscles before your workout, running, or cycling session.

1. Fire Hydrant

The Fire Hydrant stretch, also known as the Side-Lying Leg Lift, is an effective exercise that targets the hip abductor muscles.

Starting Position:

Start by positioning yourself on all fours on a mat or the floor. Ensure your hands are directly under your shoulders and your knees are under your hips.

Engage your core muscles to stabilize your body and maintain a neutral spine.

Here's how to do it:

  1. Lift your right knee out to the side, maintaining a 90-degree angle at the hip joint. Imagine mimicking the movement of a dog lifting its leg at a fire hydrant.

  2. Keep your right foot flexed and parallel to the ground. Avoid arching your back or rotating your hips.

  3. Slowly lower your right knee back down to the starting position, returning to the all-fours position.

  4. Repeat the movement for the desired number of repetitions or for a specific duration.

  5. Switch to the left side by keeping your knee bent and lifting your left knee out to the side while maintaining proper form and control.

The Fire Hydrant stretch can help improve hip mobility, strengthen the hip abductor muscles, and enhance overall lower body stability.

2. Clamshell with Resistance Band

The Clamshell stretch with a resistance band is a variation of the Clamshell exercise that adds resistance to target the hip abductor muscles more effectively.

Starting Position:

Begin by lying on your side on a mat or the floor. Ensure your body is in a straight line, with your head, shoulders, hips, and heels aligned. You can support your head with your bottom arm or rest it on a pillow for comfort.

Here's how to do it:

  1. Place a looped resistance band just above your knees. The band should be snug but not overly tight, allowing for controlled movement.

  2. Bend your knees slightly, keeping your feet together and your heels in line with your glutes.

  3. Engage your core muscles and maintain a neutral spine throughout the exercise.

  4. While keeping your feet together, lift your top knee as high as you can comfortably go, opening up your legs like a clamshell. Focus on using the muscles on the side of your hip to initiate the movement.

  5. Pause for a moment at the top of the movement, feeling the tension in the hip abductor muscles.

  6. Slowly lower your top knee back down to the starting position, maintaining control and stability.

  7. Repeat the movement for the desired number of repetitions or as prescribed by your workout routine.

  8. Switch to the other side and perform the exercise with the opposite leg.

The Clamshell stretch with a resistance band can help strengthen and activate the hip abductor muscles, which can be beneficial for improving hip stability and preventing IT band pain.

3. Side Steps with Resistance Band

The Side Steps with Resistance Band stretch, also known as the Lateral Band Walk, is an exercise that targets the hip abductor muscles and improves hip stability.

Starting Position:

Begin by placing a looped resistance band around your lower thighs, just above the knees. Make sure the band is secure but not too tight, allowing for movement.

Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your toes pointing forward. Engage your core and maintain an upright posture throughout the exercise.

Here's how to do it:

  1. Bend your knees slightly and lower your hips into a quarter-squat position. This will be your starting position.

  2. Take a step to the side with your right foot, pushing against the resistance of the band. Keep your toes pointing forward and maintain tension in the band throughout the movement.

  3. Follow with your left foot, stepping to the side to bring your feet back to shoulder-width apart.

  4. Continue stepping sideways, alternating between the right and left foot. Focus on maintaining tension in the band and keeping a steady, controlled pace.

  5. Perform the desired number of steps to the right, and then reverse direction to the left, maintaining proper form and control.

  6. Repeat for the recommended number of sets or duration.

The Side Steps with Resistance Band stretch helps strengthen the hip abductor muscles, improves hip stability, and can be beneficial for individuals involved in sports or activities that require lateral movement.

4. Side Lying Isometric Leg Lifts with Resistance Band

This stretch focuses on the muscles that help you control your hips while walking, running, and doing other leg activities. By strengthening these muscles, you can protect yourself from injuries and biomechanical issues that often cause pain.

Starting Position:

Place a resistance band around your legs, just above the knees. Choose a band with appropriate resistance for your fitness level.

Start by lying on your right side on a comfortable surface, such as an exercise mat or a carpeted floor. Align your body in a straight line, with your legs extended and stacked on top of each other.

Rest your head on your lower arm, which is extended out in front of your body. Place your upper arm on your side, bent at the elbow, to provide support and stability.

Activate your core muscles by drawing your navel towards your spine. This helps maintain stability throughout the exercise.

Here's how to do it:

  1. Keeping your legs straight, lift the top leg upward against the resistance of the band. The band should provide resistance as you perform the movement. The bottom leg remains stationary and acts as a stabilizer.

  2. Once you have raised the leg to a comfortable height, hold the position for a few seconds. Focus on squeezing the muscles on the outside of your hip and thigh (gluteus medius and tensor fasciae latae muscles) to maintain tension in the band.

  3. Slowly lower the leg back down to the starting position while maintaining control and tension in the band. Avoid letting the band snap or lose tension during the descent.

  4. Perform the desired number of repetitions on one side before switching to the opposite side.

Isometric leg lifts with a resistance band can help strengthen and activate the hip abductor muscles, which can be beneficial for improving hip stability and preventing injuries.

After Workout

Here are some tips to help you cool down after workouts with static stretching. Hold each stretch for about 45 to 60 seconds to get the best results.

Remember to relax your muscles as you hold the stretch and take deep breaths. As you exhale, you can try to gently stretch the muscle a little bit more.

Be gentle with your stretches and only feel mild tension, not pain. If you experience any pain, ease up on the stretch or stop altogether.

1. Pigeon Pose Stretch

The Pigeon Pose is a popular yoga stretch that targets the hips and glutes.

Starting Position:

Start in a tabletop position on your hands and knees, with your wrists aligned under your shoulders and your knees under your hips.

Here's how to do it:

  1. Bring your right knee forward and place it behind your right wrist. The right foot should be positioned near your left wrist.

  2. Slide your left leg back, straightening it behind you. Ensure that your left leg is extended straight back from the hip joint and the top of your foot is resting on the floor.

  3. Check the alignment of your hips. The right hip should be externally rotated, and the left hip should be in line with the left knee.

  4. Slowly lower your upper body down toward the floor. You can support yourself with your hands or forearms, depending on your flexibility.

  5. Find a comfortable position where you feel a moderate stretch in your right glute and hip.

  6. Relax your body and allow gravity to deepen the stretch.

  7. Breathe deeply and hold the pose for about 30 seconds to 1 minute.

  8. To come out of the pose, push into your hands or forearms and lift your upper body. Slide your right knee back, returning to the tabletop position.

  9. Repeat the same steps on the other side, bringing the left knee forward and extending the right leg back.

Remember to always approach stretching with caution and respect your body's limits.

2. Twisted Monkey Pose

The Twisted Monkey Pose is a variation of the Yoga Monkey Pose. It combines a deep hip opener with a twist, providing a stretch for the hip flexors, hamstrings, and spine.

Starting Position:

Begin by coming into a lunge position with your right foot forward and your left knee on the ground. Ensure that your right knee is directly above your right ankle.

Here's how to do it:

  1. Slide your left knee back slightly to increase the stretch in your left hip flexor and thigh.

  2. Shift your weight onto your right foot as you start to straighten your right leg.

  3. Extend your right heel forward while keeping your hips squared and facing forward.

  4. As you straighten your right leg, engage your core and lengthen your spine.

  5. Keep your hands on the ground on either side of your right foot for support.

  6. From here, begin to twist your torso to the right.

  7. Place your left hand on the ground inside your right foot.

  8. Lift your right arm up toward the ceiling, reaching overhead. Allow your gaze to follow your right hand, looking upward.

  9. As you twist, maintain a slight bend in your right knee if needed to protect your hamstring and keep the stretch comfortable.

  10. Hold the pose for several breaths, feeling the stretch in your hip flexors, hamstrings, and spine. Maintain steady breathing throughout.

  11. To come out of the pose, release your right hand to the ground, lower your right arm, and gently bend your right knee.

  12. Return to the starting lunge position, and then repeat the same steps on the other side, with your left foot forward.

3. Seated Floor Glute Stretch with a Twist

The Seated Floor Glute Stretch with a Twist is a yoga-inspired stretch that targets the glute muscles while incorporating a spinal twist.

Starting Position:

Start by sitting on the floor or a mat with your legs extended straight in front of you.

Here's how to do It:

  1. Bend your right knee and cross your right foot over your left leg, placing it flat on the floor on the outside of your left thigh.

  2. Keep your left leg extended and engaged, with your toes pointing up towards the ceiling.

  3. Place your right hand on the floor behind your right hip, fingers pointing towards your back.

  4. Inhale and lengthen your spine, sitting up tall.

  5. As you exhale, twist your torso towards the right, bringing your left elbow to the outside of your right knee. Use your left arm as leverage to deepen the twist.

  6. Press your right hand into the floor behind you to support the twist and maintain balance.

  7. Gently gaze over your right shoulder or towards the back to deepen the twist in your spine.

  8. Hold the pose for 30 seconds to 1 minute, breathing deeply and allowing the stretch to deepen.

  9. To release the pose, slowly unwind the twist, coming back to the center with a straight spine.

  10. Extend both legs in front of you, and then repeat the stretch on the other side, crossing your left foot over your right leg and twisting to the left.

4. Seated Figure Four Stretch

The Seated Figure-4 Stretch is a seated stretch that targets the hip and glute muscles.

Starting Position:

Start by sitting on the floor or a mat with your legs extended straight in front of you.

Here's how to do it:

  1. Bend your right knee and place your right foot flat on the floor.

  2. Cross your left ankle over your right thigh, allowing your left knee to open out to the side. Your left foot should be flexed to protect your knee.

  3. Ensure that your right leg remains extended and engaged, with your toes pointing up towards the ceiling.

  4. Inhale and lengthen your spine, sitting up tall.

  5. As you exhale, gently lean forward from your hips, aiming to bring your chest closer to your left shin. Maintain a straight spine and avoid rounding your back.

  6. You should feel a deep stretch in your left glute and outer hip. Adjust the intensity of the stretch by leaning further forward or sitting more upright.

  7. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds to 1 minute, breathing deeply and allowing the stretch to deepen.

  8. To release the stretch, slowly sit back up, keeping your spine straight.

  9. Extend both legs in front of you, and then repeat the stretch on the other side by bending your left knee and crossing your right ankle over your left thigh.

    You can also do this stretch while sitting on a chair or bench, or even lying on your back.

    Take the leg of the side that you want to stretch and cross it over the other leg, making a figure 4. Then lean forward and hold the stretch for 45 – 60 seconds. Repeat on the other side.

Note:

—A foam roller can help the healing process, but avoid foam rolling your IT band itself, as this may aggravate it further. Instead, gently roll your hips, glutes, quads, and hamstrings for about 1 minute per muscle to loosen the muscles and any scar tissue that may be constricting movement.

Yoga poses are also a helpful addition to our IT Band stretches before and after workouts.

Remember that everyone's flexibility and range of motion may vary. Practice these stretches with mindfulness and respect for your body's limitations. If you have any pre-existing conditions or concerns like knee pain, it's advisable to consult a qualified fitness or healthcare professional or physical therapist before attempting this or any other new exercise or stretch.

Benefits of Doing Pre- and Post-Workout IT Band Stretches

Before Workout

1. Increased Flexibility: IT band stretches before a workout can help improve flexibility in the IT band, hip abductors, glutes, core, and thigh muscles. This increased flexibility allows for a greater range of motion during exercises, reducing the risk of strains or pulls.

2. Injury Prevention: By stretching the IT band before a workout, you can help reduce the risk of IT Band Syndrome and other related injuries. Improved flexibility and mobility can alleviate tension and stress on the IT band, promoting proper movement mechanics.

3. Warm-Up Preparation: IT band stretches can serve as part of a warm-up routine. By actively engaging and stretching the IT band, you increase blood flow and circulation to the muscles, preparing them for the upcoming physical activity.

After Workout

1. Enhanced Recovery: Stretching the IT band after a workout can aid in reducing muscle soreness and promoting faster recovery. It helps to flush out metabolic waste products, such as lactic acid, that can accumulate during exercise.

2. Improved Flexibility and Range of Motion: Post-workout IT band stretches can further improve flexibility and maintain or increase the range of motion in the IT band and surrounding muscles. This can help prevent muscle imbalances and tightness that may develop as a result of repetitive movements.

3. Cool-Down and Relaxation: Stretching the IT band after a workout serves as part of the cool-down process. It allows the body to gradually return to a resting state, promotes relaxation, and can help prevent post-exercise muscle stiffness.

It's worth mentioning that while stretching your iliotibial band can be beneficial, it's crucial to combine it with a balanced exercise routine that includes strengthening exercises, cardio, and flexibility work.

Also, don't forget to pay attention to your body, perform stretches correctly, and seek advice from a healthcare professional or experienced fitness trainer for personalized guidance.

Never lose sight of the importance of a healthy diet and quality sleep for overall health. Protein drinks can be an important part of your diet, and if you're looking to improve your sleep, you can get RESTED-AF here.

There you have it! The best IT Band stretching exercises for athletes of all types. Remember to stretch all muscles used during your workout. Stretching should include calves, quads, glutes, and hamstrings for sure.