A tight IT band causes pain, inflammation, swelling, and discomfort. And, it can keep you out of the game, preventing you from working out or participating in athletics.
IT band syndrome is an overuse injury that is frequently seen in runners, but other athletes can get it too. One of the most common causes is tightness in this band of tissue, which can be triggered by one or more factors.
Yoga is a great solution for many people with IT band syndrome. Certain poses can stretch out the tissue, relieving tightness and resulting pain. Yoga poses are also helpful in prevention. Include regular yoga for your clients predisposed to IT band syndrome and those already experiencing some pain.
What is the IT Band?
The IT band is the iliotibial band, a bundle of fascia, a type of connective tissue, that runs from the top of the pelvic bone all the way down to the knee. It runs along the outside of the leg. It’s important for providing elastic energy for more efficient walking and running.
When compared to our closest relatives, chimpanzees, the human IT band can store significantly more elastic energy. Humans likely evolved this much more developed connective tissue for the purpose of more efficient upright movement (1).
When you run and your leg swings back, the IT band stretches, storing elastic energy. It releases as you swing that leg forward, helping to propel the body and making the movement more efficient and energy-saving.
About Iliotibial Band Syndrome
Most runners know about IT band syndrome, even if they haven’t experienced it personally. Running is the sport most often associated with the condition, and it is a leading cause of knee pain in runners. IT band syndrome occurs when the tissue gets inflamed and irritated, rubbing against bone and the knee joint.
Running is a great workout, but it can also cause a lot of pain. Check out the ISSA blog to learn about some of the most common types of running pain and how to fix it.
Symptoms and of IT Band Syndrome
Anyone can potentially get IT band syndrome, but it’s most common in athletes and people who work out regularly. It is largely a repetitive use injury, which means any activity you do that involves leg movement can potentially lead to the condition. Being too sedentary can also be a contributing factor. Sitting for long periods of time exacerbates the shortening and tightening of the IT band.
IT band syndrome is especially common in runners, who experience pain on the outside of the knee as the primary symptom. Cyclists, weightlifters, soccer players, basketball players, and others who use their knees a lot during exercise are also prone to IT band knee pain. Symptoms include:
- Pain, tenderness, aching, or burning on the outside of the knee
- Warmth or swelling on the outside of the knee
- Pain that runs up and down the outside of the leg
- Pain on the outside of the hip
- A click or popping in the outside of the knee
The pain generally gets worse with exercise. You may experience pain that tails off as you warm up for a workout, especially in the early stages of the injury.
Causes of Tightness in the IT Band
What causes the pain in IT band syndrome is the fascia rubbing against your knee joint as you bend it. The underlying cause of that friction is usually tightness in the IT band, which in turn can be caused by a number of factors:
- Overuse and repetitive motion
- Pushing too hard in activities and not getting adequate rest and recovery
- Failing to stretch, warm up, and cool down
- Wearing the wrong shoes, especially for runners
- Poor form that leads to imbalances when running or engaging in other activities
- Running regularly on a banked, uneven surface
Using Yoga for Tight IT Bands
There are several different strategies for managing IT band syndrome. Strengthening specific muscles, for instance, can help keep the IT band aligned correctly and minimize friction. Researchers have found that exercises to strengthen the hip abductors and gluteus medius muscle are particularly helpful (2). Here are some moves you can suggest for clients vulnerable to IT band pain.
Yoga is a great all-around activity for both strengthening and stretching muscles. In terms of preventing or managing minor IT band syndrome, many yoga poses can be effective. Regular practice keeps the body both strong and flexible and helps stretch out the IT band specifically.
Signs You Need Yoga for Tight IT Bands
Some people actually feel tightness in the side of the leg. This is a clear sign that you could benefit from some yoga poses that stretch out the IT band. You may only feel pain as a sign of a tight IT band: pain or tenderness on the outside of the knee or hip that may lessen as you warm up for a workout.
Even if you don’t feel any signs of IT band syndrome, you may need yoga to keep this tissue healthy. Any regular runner, for instance, needs to include IT band stretches and poses. If you regularly engage in other exercises that involve bending the knee repetitively, you need yoga and stretches.
Yoga Poses for Stretching the IT Band
Regular yoga practice, once or twice a week, is enough to keep most people flexible and balanced. It can prevent a tight IT band in athletes. However, there are specific poses you can focus on if you are concerned about or already have some significant tightness.
- Forward fold with legs crossed. This basic pose that stretches the hamstring can also hit the IT band. Cross one foot over the other, lining up the toes as much as you can. Bend into a forward fold and feel the stretch across the outside of the leg.
- Cow-face. Sitting on a yoga block to elevate the hips, cross one leg over the other, knees bent and stacked one on top of the other. You’ll feel the stretch in the top leg. You can increase the intensity by gently pushing on the outside of the top leg. You can also skip the block if you are able to it on the ground with your hips even.
- Plank with leg extension. A plank is a great strength move, but with a modification, it can also stretch out the IT band. In straight-arm plank, twist your left leg under the body and straight out to the right. You’ll feel the stretch easily, so don’t push it too hard. Rest the outside of that foot on the floor.
- Kneeling lunge with a twist. In lunge position, but with the back knee resting gently on the ground, twist and lift up to stretch the IT band. With the right leg forward, twist to the right, the left hand on the floor and the right hand reaching up.
- Supta hasta padangusthana. This one is a mouthful, and you may also know it as reclining hand-to-big-toe, but it’s a great IT band stretch. On your back, extend one leg straight up and put a resistance band or yoga strap around the ball of your foot. Keep the other leg straight along the floor. Pull your leg over your body to stretch the outside. Don’t pull too hard; go with what feels natural while keeping both shoulders and the other leg flat on the floor.
- Twisted triangle. This is a more advanced yoga pose, so it’s best to work with an instructor to get good form. Start with the right foot about two feet in front of the left. It should be pointing forward, while the left foot is turned at a 45-degree angle. Keeping the legs straight, bend at the hip, reaching the left hand down toward the ground and the right hand toward the ceiling. Your torso will twist toward your right leg, and you will feel the stretch along the right leg. Use a yoga block for the hand that is reaching down for more stability.
- Eye of the needle. An easy, but effective stretch to end a yoga IT band session is eye of the needle. On your back, lift both legs up, knees bent at 90 degrees. Cross the left leg over the right knee. Pull the right thigh in toward your chest and you’ll feel the stretch in your left leg. Then switch to your right leg.
Hold the poses and stretches for between five and ten slow, deep breaths, starting out with less time if it’s uncomfortable, and building up to a longer stretch. If you or a client is new to yoga, start with a basic yoga workout class to learn good form. If you are already experienced, use some of the more advanced poses to get a really good stretch.
IT band syndrome can become severe enough to warrant medical care. If you aren’t getting adequate relief with yoga and stretching, see your doctor. As a trainer, keep an eye on clients and recommend they get a medical opinion if needed. In a few cases, surgery to release the IT band is necessary and useful (2).
IT band pain and tightness can lead to a bad case of IT band syndrome. If you ignore it, the condition will only worsen, potentially sidelining you from activities for weeks. Yoga is an excellent tool for both managing and preventing IT problems.
Is yoga your passion? Could you see yourself helping others through yoga poses and practice? It’s a great way to earn a living, and ISSA can help you get there. The new Certified Yoga Instructor course is available online now.