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Stretches for IT band syndrome

Updated: 2 hours ago

The current research shows that, while stretches should be an important part of the treatment plan for iliotibial band syndrome (IT band syndrome), it’s not actually the IT band itself that you should aim to stretch. In this article, we’ll explain why you can’t stretch the IT band, what muscles you should rather stretch, and provide you with examples of stretch exercises that may be useful if you have IT band syndrome. Remember, if you need more help with an injury, you're welcome to consult one of our physios online via video call.


Stretches for it band syndrome

In this article:

  1. Can you stretch the IT band?

  2. What should you be stretching if you have IT band syndrome?

  3. How often should you stretch for IT band syndrome?

  4. Stretching may not be enough

  5. How we can help

We also made a video about this:



Can you stretch the IT band?


No. The IT band is a thick, fibrous band of fascia. Fascia is the white, sinewy stuff you find in meat. It is extremely tough and specifically designed not to easily stretch under load. It also can’t contract, like muscles do, but it has a very important stability function.



There are several muscles that attach into the IT band (glute max, tensor fascia latae, outer quad). When you walk, run, or jump, these muscles contract and pull the IT band tight, which in turn helps to stabilise your pelvis (stops it from dropping to one side).


What should you be stretching if you have IT band syndrome?


You should stretch the muscles that attach onto the IT band, which are the glute max, tensor fascia latae (TFL), and outer quads (front thigh muscle).


Whilst the IT band itself has no control over how tight it feels, the muscles that attach onto it can become in tone or tight. When this happens, they may pull the IT band too tight, causing increased compression, and eventually IT band syndrome, where it passes over the outer knee joint.



Glute stretch

If your IT band is very sensitive, you may have to wait with this stretch until it is happy for you to bend your knee into the required position.


Stretching the glutes is advised when you have IT band syndrome because they attach right onto the it band

Instructions (for IT band syndrome on the right):

  1. Lie on your back with both knees bent up.

  2. Place the outside of your right ankle just above your left knee.

  3. Take hold of your left thigh with both hands and pull it towards your chest.

  4. Put a pillow under your head if you struggle to keep your neck in a comfortable position.

  5. You will feel the stretch in the right buttock/thigh/back depending on which part is the tightest.

  6. Hold the stretch for 30 to 40 seconds.

  7. Do 2 to 3 repetitions on each side.


Quad stretch

If your quads are very tight, you may have to start by doing this stretch without catching your foot. And then later on add in the foot catch.


Quad stretch for iliotibial band syndrome

Instructions:

  1. Place a cushion under your knee to protect it from the hard floor.

  2. Half kneel with your one knee on the pillow and your other leg out in front of you.

  3. Hold on to something for balance.

  4. Push your hips forward, but at the same time tilt your pelvis backwards so that you feel a stretch over the front of your thigh and hip. This is important - if you allow your pelvis to tilt forward, the stretch will not be as effective.

  5. Maintain that position and grab hold of your foot.

  6. Hold the stretch for 30 to 40 seconds.

  7. Do 2 to 3 repetitions on each side.


Trunk side bend IT band stretch

Yes, I know, I said you can’t stretch the IT band. But this is the name most often used for this stretch. In reality it actually stretches your TFL, glute med, and side trunk muscles, which are all connected to each other via layers of fascia. So this is a great stretch to reduce the muscle tone along the side of the body.


It band side stretch
Picture credit: https://physiotec.ca.

Instructions:

  1. Stand upright.

  2. Cross the leg on the side you're aiming to stretch behind your other leg.

  3. Then lift that same side's arm up and reach over your head to the other side until you bend at the trunk and feel a stretch over your side hip and trunk.

  4. Hold the stretch for 30 to 40 seconds.

  5. Do 2 to 3 repetitions on each side.


How often should you stretch for IT band syndrome?


Research has shown that stretching three times per week is enough. A good time for doing stretches is after your strength training. That way, you ensure that you relax the muscles properly after you’ve worked them.


Remember, too much of a good thing is usually not a good idea, and you can injure yourself if you stretch too aggressively and too often.

Stretching may not be enough


Stretching only addresses one of the possible causes of IT band syndrome. You should also check if you should be including strengthening exercises or exercises that train your movement patterns in your IT band rehab. Running retraining has also been beneficial for some patients. Other treatments, like anti-inflammatory medication, may also benefit you during the early stage - we’ve listed the most beneficial conservative treatment options for IT band syndrome in this article.


How we can help

Need more help with your injury? You’re welcome to consult one of the team at SIP online via video call for an assessment of your injury and a tailored treatment plan.

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About the Author

Maryke Louw is a chartered physiotherapist with more than 15 years' experience and a Master’s Degree in Sports Injury Management. Follow her on LinkedIn and ResearchGate.


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