Foam rolling of the iliotibial band (ITB) has long been one of the most dreaded part of any maintenance routine. It is an exquisitely painful process of rolling up and down on the outside of your thigh, often resulting in a feeling of limited change in the “tightness” of your ITB. But here’s the good news – we now have evidence as to why you can stop this painful process.
What exactly is the ITB?
The ITB is one of the thickest bands of fascia (an incredibly strong type of fibrous connective tissue that attaches, stabilises, encloses and separates the muscles and organs of the body) in the human body. The ITB originates from the tendons of Tensor Fasciae Latae (TFL) and Gluteus Maximus muscles, runs down the outside or lateral part of your thigh, over the lateral part of the knee before inserting into the lateral epicondyle of the tibia. Due to its attachments, the ITB plays an important role in connecting the muscles of the hip with the lower leg, playing a crucial role in stabilising the knee during running.
Why do people foam roll their ITB?
Generally because one of their friends or training buddies has told them it helps with recovery and in reducing injury. You see foam rolling has long been a staple of many athletes around the world. This form of soft tissue therapy has been used as a self-treatment tool, used to improve joint range of motion and increase muscle recovery time, without sacrificing performance and strength. It was the belief of these “experts” that foam rolling your ITB will increase its length and therefore decrease tightness and pain around the outside of the thigh and knee, thus decreasing the likelihood of developing an injury like the dreaded ITB friction syndrome or “Runner’s knee”. The good news is there is now evidence to back up what I have been telling my clients for years……that the pain is actually for no gain!!
A study released in 2008 in the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association had the objective of using a three dimensional mathematical model for exploring the relationship between mechanical forces and deformation of human fascia.
It was concluded that 925kg of direct force and a 460kg of tangential force were required to produce just 1% change in iliotibial band. This is far outside the physiological capabilities of the human body.
They did hypothesize that any changes felt in the “tightness” of the ITB may be the result of stimulation of the mechanoreceptors (sensory receptors in the tissues that respond to mechanical pressure) that then creates a change in the tone of the connected muscle fibres.
So what do I do now about my tightness?
Panic……..only kidding. You need to find out why your ITB feels tight and address that reason. Is it your poor foot biomechanics? Is it your gluteal weakness? Is it your tight TFL that is causing the tension in your ITB? Is it your running gait? The list of causative factors goes on and on.
Without skilled assessment and an accurate diagnosis, this issue can linger on for many years to come. Luckily we have the answer. Osteopaths are highly trained health care professionals who have built a reputation on their understanding how one part of the body can affect another.
Dr Vaughan Saunders has also completed further expert training in functional movement from a variety of sources including the Functional Movement Group and Functional Movement Systems. This enables him to delve deeper into your problem and hopefully find that solution you have been looking for.
PS – Want a head start? Watch our video on how to use a foam roller to relieve tightness in your lateral hip and thigh muscles, thus reducing the strain on your ITB. This could be one of the answers you have been looking for.