The iliotibial, or IT band, is a length of connective tissue that runs along the outside of the thigh from the hip joint to the knee. Its function is to provide stability as the knee flexes and extends, as during walking, running, sitting, standing, and pretty much any movement involving your legs.
Unfortunately, overuse and abuse can cause the IT band to become irritated, inflamed, or injured, resulting in pain that impacts your ability to participate in activities you love, or even normal daily activities. When this happens, you’ll be glad to hear that simple steps like rest, icing, elevation, and anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen can help to alleviate pain.
However, if you want to prevent further issues with your IT band, your best bet is to engage in IT band stretches and exercises designed to reduce pain now and in the future. Improving strength and flexibility can keep your IT band healthy and give you the best opportunity to avoid pain and other setbacks. Here are a few IT band exercises you might want to try.
1. Crossed-leg stretch
This is often the first stretch recommended for anyone dealing with a tight or irritated IT band, and the reason is because it one of the easiest and best IT band stretches. From a standing position, all you have to do is cross one ankle over the other and plant both feet firmly on the ground. From there you can lean forward and touch your toes for a fantastic stretch. You can also lean to the side (of the front leg) to get a better stretch for the back leg.
2. Twisted triangle
This simple stretch is a good one if you have trouble with balance or you can’t touch your toes. Spread your legs wide and hinge forward at the hips, keeping a flat back, until your hands are flat on the ground. Now twist to one side, raising the arm on that side straight up into the air while keeping the opposite arm anchored on the ground. Look up to your fingertips if you can.
3. Figure four
If you’re familiar with yoga poses, you’ve probably heard this referred to as half chair pose, and if you can manage it, you’re going to get a great IT band stretch. This pose does require some amount of flexibility, strength, and balance to begin with, so if you can’t do it right away, it might be something to work your way up to.
To do this standing stretch, start by crossing your ankle over the opposite knee, creating a figure four with your legs. Flex your elevated foot to protect your knee. From there, lower your body as if you were sitting back onto a chair. You can try to bend forward and reach your hands to the ground for an extra stretch, or simply reach your arms forward for balance.
4. Side leg raise
There are plenty of IT band exercises to try, but you might want to start with a simple, beginner move that pretty much anyone can do. All you have to do is lie on your side with your body in a straight line. Slowly raise your top leg to about a 45-degree angle and then slowly lower it. Do about 25 reps and then switch sides.
5. Hip thrust
In yoga, this is called the bridge, and it’s a great stretch/strength combo. Lie your back with your arms at your sides, your knees bent, and your feet flat on the floor, placed so that you can touch your heels with your fingertips. Push your heels into the ground and roll your pelvis up and in toward your navel, raising your pelvis up into the air until you create a straight line from your shoulders to your knees. Hold, then slowly lower, rolling down your spine. Do this 20 times.
6. Pistol squat
Squats are a great way to strengthen your quads, but if you want to improve IT band pain, you’re going to have to opt for one-legged squats like the pistol squat. It’s not an easy move, so don’t feel bad if you have to work up to it – you’ll get there. Balancing on one leg, lift the opposite knee to hip height. Squat down on the standing leg until parallel with the floor while extending the raised leg straight out in front of you, then slowly rise. Repeat 10 times on each leg.