Learn how to release your TFL and feel the benefits from your hips to your toes!
You will need some kind of pole, preferably a hollow one, and a tennis ball.
A few words about commonly used tools and techniques for TFL release: I have seen (and tried) all the commonly used ways to target the TFL, including using a foam roller, a lacrosse ball on the floor or against a wall, a baseball on the floor etc.
I was never impressed with ANY of these methods or tools because it was always my experience that a) it was VERY difficult to accurately find the correct spot and stay on it, and b) because of the nature of HOW these techniques must be performed (lying on your side on a mobility tool), I always felt like my body weight was SQUISHING my TFL far too much to allow for a true pin and stretch release. Remember: massaging a muscle, rolling around on it or compressing it to “melt” the soft tissue is NOT what I teach; here on Mobility Mastery I’m always trying to mimic what I do with my private clients, which is a pin, release and stretch of the fascia.
I am so happy I’ve finally figured out how to address this in a way that mimics what I do with my private clients! For those of you who have been using the other methods, I’d LOVE to hear from you if you try my way out. I think you will love it.
Why release your TFL?
In my 8 years of working with fascia for pain relief and mastering mobility, I’ve never seen the fascia within the TFL play the primary role in what I call a “pain pattern.” (Low back pain, knee pain, hip pain etc). Meaning…it is never my go-to ONE area of the body to target, if I were limited to choosing only one area to release. Obviously, in my office with clients I’m never limited to one thing, so I always check the TFL and release it when necessary, and it often does play a role in a lot of pain patterns.
Generally speaking, I’ve found it to be a key peripheral player that definitely needs attention, but usually after taking care of the primary players (which could be the quads and hip flexors, the IT Band fascia, the adductors, etc).
I won’t be going into detail for all the pain patterns that include the TFL (we’d be here all day). I will be talking about it’s role in low back pain, so if that’s you please read that (below) before trying this technique.
If you are NOT in pain and simply want to free your hips and feel even better than ‘normal,’ then what are you waiting for?! Go after it.
If you ARE in pain:
There are a LOT of reasons to investigate and release the fascia in one or both areas of your TFL. These include (and are not limited) to: low back and SI pain, hip pain, knee pain, shin splints, heel and ankle issues, lateral or medial knee shifts (with or without pain) and less commonly mid back pain, shoulder and neck issues. (Ankles affect knees which affect hips which affect shoulders, and vice versa).
A lot of the above will require additional techniques that target your IT Band, quads, adductors, shins, calves etc. Please search this site or use any other resources you have to target the key players in whatever pain pattern you are experiencing.
My recommendation is to become your own pain relief expert. This starts with getting curious and being willing to investigate where your own body’s imbalances exist. Or schedule a Skype session with me if you want my help.
If you have low back pain:
First, I recommend reading another post of mine that talks about low back pain. Click here for that.
The TFL can play a role in low back pain because it is a hip stabilizer, balancing our pelvis as we stand, walk, run etc. The primary players in low back pain are typically (in my experience anyway) fascial restrictions in the quads, the quad hip flexors, the adductors and the ITT (Iliotibiall tract).
A fascial imbalance left to right or front to back may be causing a pelvic tilt, shift or rotation, which can initiate low back pain of all kinds. As I discuss in the blog post linked to above, it is my opinion that the brain may then recruit muscles such as the hamstrings, glutes (typically medius) or TFL to re-stabilize the pelvis in order to prevent pain and structural shifts that can cause nerve or spine damage from unwanted compression or rotation forces.
It has been my repeated experience that in order to permanently reverse a pain pattern, the primary players must be taken care of FIRST, before helping those areas that have been recruited by the brain. The TFL is usually (not always, but usually), one of those areas recruited by the brain when something like low back pain is occurring.
If you have low back pain, the wisest course of action in my opinion is to take care of your primary players first before going into the TFL.
The RISK of releasing the TFL without first taking care of the primary players is (again, this is my opinion) a neurological freak-out because you’ve just released one of the muscles recruited to keep your pelvis stable but you haven’t taken care of the big bullies that are destabilizing it to begin with. You may feel better for a few hours or a day, but chances are pretty good your pain will come back worse and your TFL will tense up even more (this is neuroligical tightness, not tightness from overuse which will be true with your quads, ITB or adductors).
So, if you have low back pain please read the post I linked to first, and follow the instructions at the end before coming back here to try the TFL release.
Get the most out of this technique:
- I like a tennis ball for this technique FAR MORE than any other tool because it is a little bit soft which means you can mold it to fit into the pocket where the TFL is hiding. A harder ball like a lacrosse ball won’t do this as well, and anything larger like a baseball is way too big to pin this spot right.
- Take your time in finding the RIGHT SPOT. I’m adding the photos to the right of me working on a client so you know approximately what to target. Notice the “pocket” or hole where my heel sinks into his hip. You need to find this on yourself and get the tennis ball where my heel is in those pictures. You will know you’ve got the right spot because it will feel tender, sore, tight, sensitive…any of those kinds of sensations. Healthy fascia (anywhere in the body) won’t feel like anything! So if you hunt around here and don’t find anything, maybe your TFL fascia is healthy. Try your other TFL.
- You’ll likely need to keep adjusting the tennis ball as you move your leg, to keep it in the right spot. So again…take your time, move slowly, adjust as necessary and keep going.
- Dorsiflex your feet (both of them, toes and ankles towards your shin) to get the best stretch.
- Move in a zig zag along a line towards or away from your hip.
- Make sure your foot (the one on the leg you’re working) doesn’t move too much towards your other leg.
- Give this a good minute or so.
- If you try both hips and you find that one is a lot more sensitive or tender, DO THIS ONE MORE. Spend more time here. This will help EVEN OUT your pelvis if there is an imbalance. If you release both equally and they are out of balance, then they are both “looser” but still out of balance.
- Make sure to breathe through it!
- After you’re done, get up, walk around and notice what happened. Whatever happens is GOOD INFORMATION. Use that information to get to know your body and its patterns, and that data will help you know what to do next.