Should I Foam Roll My IT Band?

 Photo Credit: cyclingweekly.com

Photo Credit: cyclingweekly.com

In a prior post we discussed the prevention, treatment, and prognosis for iliotibial band syndrome.  The iliotibial band is commonly injured due to poor running biomechanics (cross over running gait) and muscle imbalances.  Specifically, weakness in the gluteus medius and maximus and an overutilization of the tensor fascia lata muscle which connects into the IT band.  In the presence of this muscle imbalance the IT band is compressed against the knee bone creating friction and pain. 

Often patients in our Boulder Physical Therapy practice ask if they should add foam rolling to their IT band, as in the picture above, to help "release" or "stretch" the IT band.  This extremely painful foam rolling does little for your IT band flexibility due to the strength of this structure.  The IT band is an extremely tough tissue and will not stretch with foam rolling, massage, or any other intervention.  Chaudhry et al found it would take a load of over 9000 newtons (925 kg) to change the IT band by only 1% (2008).  To put the amount of force in perspective, a lion's jaw produces 4,450 N of force.  Thus, the juice is not worth the painful squeeze of the foam roller.  Patients are advised to work with a Physical Therapist to determine the underlying cause of the IT band pain.  To improve flexibility patients should work the soft tissue at the hip vs. the IT band tissue at the thigh.