Muscle/Fitness: IT Band Tightness, how to relieve?
November 7, 2012 6:42 PM   Subscribe

Muscle/Fitness: Most of my life, I've noticed that I have tight I.T. Bands, or at least tightness in the side of my thighs. How can I relieve this tightness? Tried rolling, etc... not much help.

I've been working out regularly this year since January, using StrongLifts 5x5 and a cardio HIIT workout to drop roughly 40 pounds. That's great, and it's helped relieve back problems, etc., but I've noticed that I still have tight IT bands (side of my thighs). I've consistently attempted to release this tightness via foam rolling, stretching, even using a rolling pin on my thighs to try to relieve them. This goes back as far as high school (12 years) that I've had the tightness, and I do remember a few times suddenly releasing the muscle and it feeling like I had dumped cold water on my thighs. Such a relief, but I've never been able to consistently do it.

I'm open for suggestions at how to consistently relieve the tightness. I do feel that I get enough recovery as I've had great gains and ample time for my legs to recover. I was specifically interested in electro therapy. Is that something that is viable?
posted by MMALR to Health & Fitness (11 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Yoga could help a lot, particularly the half-pigeon pose. It's helped a lot my IT band tightness since I started doing it after long runs. I don't know if you've already tried similar stretches, but checking out a yoga class is certainly worth trying before you resort to electro therapy.
posted by ignignokt at 7:14 PM on November 7, 2012

Lie on your back, point your toes, reach one leg over your body to point to the side, sweep the leg back and sweep the other leg up and over to the other side, and repeat. Gently and slowly start un-pointing your toes and getting your legs higher and higher with each sweep.

Sitting in deep squats (all the way down with your butt brushing the floor) will help too.

For both, be mindful and careful of your lower back.
posted by zeek321 at 7:28 PM on November 7, 2012

I second the yoga. Sometimes you can find a sports yoga or runner's yoga class. They don't provide intense physical release, but they do provide some, and it's a lot more pleasant than a foam roller. I also sometimes think people with challenging/tight IT bands sometimes neglect some of their ancillary anatomy-- some good sports yoga addresses the whole package, and I see some improvement when I'm consistent with it.

I've been an avid distance runner for years now, and I have had serious IT band issues (among other things) that have never fully gone away. The only thing that has consistently provided relief is sports massage. Specifically request that they spend some significant time working out your IT bands. As you've probably guessed, it HURTS. A million times worse than your worst day with a rolling pin. But it provides some of the only real relief I've ever found. I don't keep them up consistently (pricey, even though I've found a relatively inexpensive masseuse), but they're a good "reset" when things get really bad.
posted by unmouton88 at 7:31 PM on November 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

Hammering away at the tense muscles with rolling and stretching is beneficial, but tends to be mostly palliative and so obviously not the whole solution (same goes for electro therapy). For actual amelioration you'll need to find what's causing the hypertonicity in the first place, which may be some imbalance of the quads, adductor/abductors or glutes. A hypertensive muscle is not hypertensive of its own accord: it's being forced to operate that way by underperformance elsewhere in the kinetic chain.

I recommend you seek a consult with a sports physio: a good one will take a global look at your leg motor patterning and spot the deficit right off. The fix could be as simple as narrowing your squat stance for greater VMO activation.
posted by Kandarp Von Bontee at 8:04 PM on November 7, 2012 [3 favorites]

Assuming that this is actually an IT Band Problem, there are a few things I would suggest. First of all, make sure that you are doing a full and complete foam roll of the IT Band, and not missing any important parts. I did a video demonstrating exactly this, here it is.
Second, the IT Band it self really doesn't stretch all that much, but the muscles that surround/blend into the IT Band are definitely worth stretching including: Quads, lateral hip muscles, posterior hips, and hamstrings.

+1 for myofascial release/massage.

Generally, it is best to foam roll first, then stretch second. Expect that if this truly has been tight for you since you were 12, it is going to take weeks to months of daily self-care to make sustained changes.

Beyond that, it would be a good idea to have an evaluation by somebody in your area that specializes in such things to see if there are any underlying musculoskeletal or functional issues that need to be addressed as well.
posted by walmerhoz at 8:17 PM on November 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

Lots and lots of lunges - forward, backwards, jumping. At least for me, addressing the underlying muscle imbalance (relatively weak gluts) helped more than all that horrible time on the foam roller.
posted by lab.beetle at 8:24 PM on November 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Massage therapist here.
1. ITBs have to have some tension in them; they keep your knee stable. It's normal for the lower 1/3 of the ITB (near the knee) to be slightly more stiff than the upper 2/3; again this is for stability.

It is possible, however, that the ITB may not be sliding over the vastus lateralis as well as it should be. See a good remedial massage therapist, and see if s/he can do some MFR or soft tissue mobilisation between the ITB and vat lat.

2. You may, as others have pointed out, have issues elsewhere: tight glutes could be a problem, as some of the glute max fibres insert into the ITM. Again your PT or LMT should be a guide here.

3. Kandarp VB++. Motor control, an incorrect stance, etc could be inhibiting something else, which may then cause your glutes & TFL to compensate by tightening. A bit hard to tell without examining you whilst you are performing the exercise, but do get it checked out.

Treatment doesn't necessarily have to hurt, by the way. It can be uncomfortable, but do you really think you (and your muscles) are going to relax if someone is causing you great pain?
posted by flutable at 9:12 PM on November 7, 2012 [3 favorites]

I'm a massage therapist as well. Everybody and their parakeet foam rolls their "tight" IT bands, but alas it doesn't usually work very well. Here's an interesting post on the subject:

If you're really motivated, try going through this tutorial: (I have no affiliation with this guy, I just think it's a good resource).
posted by parrot_person at 2:54 AM on November 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Do you generally wear running/ athletic shoes with a 1"+ heel to workout out or just to walk around in? Go to a zero drop shoe instead. totally eliminated my IT problems several years ago. But take it slow if you run a lot, I irritated my Achilles tendon a lot when I made the switch abruptly.
posted by fshgrl at 3:32 AM on November 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Some great suggestions... so here's some more information for all of you:

@ignignokt I utilize this stretch before and after every workout. It definitely helps intense tightness, but doesn't go all the way.

@fshgrl - Got rid of my heeled athletic shoes a year ago, started wearing barefoot Merrells, completely eliminated my shin splints and other issues in my lower body and back. Great buy.
posted by MMALR at 6:06 AM on November 8, 2012

I haven't used it for ITBs specifically, but Active-Isolated Stretching has been much more successful in having lasting results for me with regard to other muscles than any other methods I have tried. Try this.
posted by callmejay at 12:16 PM on November 8, 2012

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