You know the IT band: the swath of connective tissue that runs from your outer hip down to your lower leg. That IT Band.
Anatomically speaking, the IT band isn’t really a “band” at all. Although most anatomical pictures (like this one) depict it as a segment, it’s actually part of a greater fascial stocking that wraps around the entire thigh. The IT band is intrinsically connected to your pelvis, your femur, and your lower leg. Ultimately, it’s part of the great webbing of connective tissue that weaves throughout your entire body. This means that tightness in your outer leg may not be just about your poor IT band, but about constriction in the fascial network further up or down the chain (like your lower back, calves or feet).
The “IT band”
Composed of connective tissue, the IT band is supposed to be tight in order to stabilize your pelvis. That said, it can get too tight, constricted, or adhered, and cause problems like outer knee pain. As I’ve gotten older, my IT bands have become increasingly gnarly; stretching them (or the muscles that attach to them) has been helpful in maintaining a happy pelvis. If you regularly engage in uni-planar activities such as running, cycling or hiking, your outer hips will almost benefit from some attention.
Here are five poses to help you out.
1. Supta Hasta Padangustasana C
This pose is a doozy. Grab a strap or towel.
Keep your right hip DOWN as you cross your foot towards the left side of your mat.
- Lie on your back.
- Draw your right knee into your chest and put your strap or towel around the ball of your foot.
- Extend your foot to the sky.
- Straighten your leg and engage your quads (we want the quad engaged to plump up against the IT band)
- Straighten your left leg along the floor; scrub the heel forward and press your thigh done. Work, super model.
- Now, hold your strap in your left hand and tuck your right thumb into your right hip crease (top of your thigh). That hip is going to want to hike up. Pull it towards the end of your mat (your left heel) and anchor the hip down into the mat.
- Keeping your right hip on the ground, cross your right foot towards your left shoulder – you do not need to go far.
- Stretch the diagonal line from your right hip through your right big toes. Straighten your legs actively.
- This should make your eyes water.
- Hold for 2 minutes. YES! 2 minutes.
- Change sides and repeat.
2. Ardha Hanumanasana (half splits…with twist)
Come into ardha hanumanasana with your right foot forward.
Now, walk your right foot to the left side of your mat, across your body.
- Press the inner foot forward as you actively pull your outer right hip back.
- Firm your quads (they must work here)
- Press your heel down and pull back through the outer right hip, almost as if you could pull your right sitting bone towards your left thigh.
- For more excitement, keep your left hands down, and use your right thumb to pull your outer right hip back and in.
- Stretch your leg.
- Hold for 2 minutes, yes, 2 minutes.
3. Revolved Triangle Pose
Lather, rinse, repeat. This is the standing pose version of the last two poses.
I recommend using two blocks.
Keep pulling the front hip back and in.
Press down through the big toe mound of your front foot as you draw your outer hip back and in. Again, we are capitalizing on the diagonal stretch through the tissue of the leg. Use blocks as you need to lift your chest, and do your very best to straighten and engage your legs.
As you add the twist, keep your spine aligned with the midline of your mat.
Hold 90 seconds per side. Whew!
4. Thread the Needle
This pose stretches the muscles that attach to the IT band. Getting them some slack can take the pressure off.
Thread the needle stretches the outer glutes.
Cross your right ankle over your left knee and draw your left knee into your chest. Stay here for at least 90 seconds per side.
Similar to thread the needle, gomukhasana stretches the outer hip. However, because the thigh is crossed more medially, the stretch will feel different. I actually find that sitting upright in this pose (without forward folding) stretches my Tensor Fascia Latae, which is an internal rotator on the front of the hip that also connects to the IT band. If your knees don’t like gomukhasana, then repeat thread the needle, but cross your right knee more towards the midline to change the directionality of the stretch.
Gomukhasana. Forward fold from here to stretch the outer hips.
- Glute medius and maximus.
- TFL and the IT Band
The proof is really in how you feel afterwards.
Take a stroll around. For the next day, how do your hips feel? Does the stretching help? If you feel as if your outer hips/knees are still constricted, it’s a great idea to go visit a physiotherapist or registered massage therapist and let them give you feedback. A physio may discover that your constriction is triggered from a different part of your body and can help you adjust to create more slack in the fascial chain; an RMT can help to release adhesions or constrictions that aren’t accessible by stretching alone. Or (and this may surprise you), you may actually need to tighten up your outer hips more rather than stretch them! Weak outer hips can be as cranky as tight outer hips. For any persistent pain or issues, go see a specialist and get some personal loving care.