Should I foam roller my IT Band?

In short, no!

In long. The iliotibial band (ITB) is a really thick fibrous band of tissue thats a continuation of the gluteus maximus (gmax) and tensor fasciae latae (tfl) muscles.  The ITB runs down the outside of the thigh and attaching to the tibia bone below the knee.IT Band

Often linked to knee pain you see people foam rolling the side of the leg in an attempt to either help with any knee issues, or in an effort to remain pain free.  ITB Syndrome is a common ailment, often linked to training intensity changes, either speed or distance changing over a short period.  The default Marathon training is a great way to irritate the ITB.

“What’s wrong with this? When I roller my IT Band, it feels good?”

In their paper Chaudhry H & Schleip R (2008) Three-dimensional mathematical model for deformation of human fasciae in manual therapy. J Am Osteopath Assoc. Aug;108(8):379-90.

Our calculations reveal that the dense tissues of plantar fascia and fascia lata require very large forces—far outside the human physiologic range—to produce even 1% compression and 1% shear

To increase the ITB by 1% would require 9075N/925KG of force.  Thats impossible to exert either with manual therapy/massage/stretching or with a foam roller.

So what is happening?

The forces required mean you’re not directly influencing the fibres of the ITB and whats probably happening is neuromodulation.  The skin has an incredible amount of nerve endings which by stimulating with the roller, or manual therapy, influence the central nervous system and the brain which control muscles and soft tissue.

If you are suffering knee pain then targeting the muscles higher up the leg and around the hip area would be more advisable.  It’s possible these muscles are in a state of higher tension which lower down will be irritating the ITB, can cause knee tracking problems, inflammation and pain

Some self treatment or Sports Massage will help the CNS chill out a little and relieve the tension. Roller the muscles around the hip, front, side and back with your roller or a lacrosse ball also works really well!  Also be mindful of moving around more frequently.  A long run and then sitting in a chair for 8 hours is not what our bodies were designed for.

The Awesome PT (a physiotherapy parody account) has this to say on the matter:



If you have any questions or are suffering from knee pain then feel free to contact me.  There are plenty of things I can advise for self treatment and we can look at any imbalances or changes that might be the source of the problem.

If you are marathon training and need some advice or looking to train for distance then I’d thoroughly recommend a chat with Optimal Motion about your training program. Very experienced long distance runner and also a great therapist.


About the Author:

Sports Massage / Soft Tissue Rehabilitation Therapist and Pain Science student.