Foam Rolling and The IT Band (Hint: It’s NOT the Enemy!)

“I have an IT Band issue.”

I can’t tell you how many times I hear this from new clients who believe the IT Band is at the root of all their problems, from knee pain to back pain.

Google “foam rolling” and you’ll see more videos for how to roll the IT band than any other muscle in the body. I see people in the gym every day foam rolling the crap out of their IT band the way it’s been traditionally taught and I want to say: STOP!

The IT Band is NOT your enemy.

The main job of the IT band is to stabilize us from knee to hip (or hip to knee). It needs to have a high degree of tension (tightness) in the direction of knee to hip to do that job.

Notice the picture on the right: the IT band is white, whereas the other major muscles are shown in red. This isn’t a mistake. While all muscles have a lot of fascia holding them together, the IT band is special in that it is mostly made of connective tissue (fascia) and almost looks like a giant tendon or ligament rather than a muscle.

Don’t make the mistake of rolling your IT band out like pizza dough!

Foam rolling as it is traditionally taught targets muscles (not fascia), and the method is typically an attempt to force the muscle to change via manipulation from the outside.

To actually stretch fascia and effect change, we need to pin it in place and then get the tissue to change itself through movement.

Watch the second video (below) to learn how I roll the IT band by targeting the tissue where the IT band and quadriceps meet. The fascia of these muscles can get stuck together and balled up in knots (sometimes the size of grapefruits!)

This isn’t for the faint of heart, but it’s one of the key pieces of tissue we need to stretch to restore our fascia to a healthy state.

How to foam roll your IT Band:

  • Meri says:

    I looked this up to see how much damage I did by accidentally finding this spot, while trying to locate the adductor fascia on the other leg… I eventually found that too, but I saw all of my 9 lives flash before my eyes when I did this one 😹 Not looking forward to unclunking this in my other leg, here’s hoping that it isn’t the worse one, because that’s the side where I have a subluxing hip 🙏

  • A good tip for using a roam roller for IT band tightness is to focus on the TFL muscle at the top of the IT band, where it joins the pelvis. This is the area that will respond most to a roller 🙂

    • Hey Matthew, thanks for your comment! The TFL is certainly worthy of attention as well. In my experience (which is based on 8 years of private practice doing fascial release, which these mobility techniques are based on), the TFL responds to the ITB more than the ITB responds to the TFL…at least when the ITB FASCIA (not the muscle) is released where it’s stuck in knots near the femur, on the INSIDE. Rolling the ITB muscle from knee to hip is NOT going to do much good and may in fact make the hip and knee more unstable.

  • Karen says:

    Thank you thank you thank you! Never has one piece of advice given me so much pain, but then pain relief!
    I have knots and more, I seem to have a knot that slips under the itb more towards the back of my thigh? Should I just rotate around to that or is it my hamstring then and I need another method?

    • You’re so welcome, and good work Karen, on finding those knots! I know exactly the location you’re talking about, near the hamstring or back of the thigh. Don’t go to your hamstrings on the roller (face up) as you won’t get much relief that way. Instead, do just as you mentioned and simply rotate yourself more towards your hamstring while you’re right there on those knots (you’ll be half on your ITB and half on your hamstring), and once you’ve pinned it…do some knee bending and straightening, and rotation (the zig zags). What issue is this helping with, if you don’t mind me asking? Keep me posted!

      • Karen says:

        Thanks, it’s a longstanding lateral knee pain issue; I’ve had X-rays which only showed slight osteoarthritis ( I’m 50 and a recreational runner), also seen physical therapist, physiotherapist, osteopath and chiropractor. Various theories all providing short term pain relief but nothing lasting as yet!
        Never found these knots before as only used the standard foam rolling techniques; I will report back in a week and let you know what progress I’ve made.

        • Definitely try my calf foam rolling techniques (both the one for knee pain AND the one for plantar fasciitis), as I’ve typically found that the #1 cause of knee pain is an area in the calf, just below the knee on the outside. The #2 cause is where you are rolling right now. Good luck and do report back!

    • Jackie says:

      Thanks for your help i order one

  • simone says:

    Is there a certain type of foam roller I need to purchase?

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