Why foam rolling isn’t a cure
It seems logical that if you’re dealing with IT Band Syndrome, massaging the tendon with a foam roller might help. And while it will likely provide temporary relief afterward (there’s a good chance it’ll also hurt like heck while you’re rolling!), it’s my firm belief that arbitrary foam rolling of your IT band can do more harm than good. Here’s why: For starters, excessive rolling can further irritate an aggravated IT band tendon, worsening existing micro-tears. Plus, some of the relief that comes after a foam-rolling session may be the result of stimulated stretch receptors in the vastus lateralis, the lateral quadriceps muscle that lies beneath your IT band. While this quad-tension relief can slightly relieve IT band pain, it doesn’t negate the potential additional damage caused by the foam roller. Finally, if you foam roll your IT band while ignoring the all-important gluteus maximus and tensor fasciae latae, you’re not addressing the underlying cause of pain.
Instead of foam rolling, try Ball Plow
First, use therapy balls on your gluteus maximus and tensor fasciae latae. Place the balls between your muscles and the floor, then ease the weight of your body onto the balls, taking deep breaths as the balls sink deep into your tissue. Stay here for 2 minutes per muscle group. As you lie on the balls, try tensing and releasing these muscles a few times to further relax the muscles and their connections to the IT band. Then, use therapy balls on the outside of your thigh, which will help to improve hip mechanics and ultimately restore proper IT band function—without risking additional damage. It’s important to avoid trying to “roll out” or “loosen” your IT band, as it could worsen its condition. Instead, use the therapy balls to target the mobility of the muscles underneath the IT band: the quadriceps. In the following release exercise (“Ball Plow,” below), moving the therapy balls in super-slow motion helps to coax mobility into these deeper muscles. The balls will likely come in contact with your IT band at times, so limit your pressure at highly sensitive points. Attempt to apply pressure that helps to create a relaxation response in the deep thigh muscles below the IT band. The practice below will help you to home in on the right spots. If rolling feels painful, back off. This should feel like a tolerable stretch, leaving the area feeling warm and refreshed.
1 Rest on your side and place a pair of Yoga Tune Up Therapy Balls (or other small, pliable balls) on the outside of your thigh, toward the junction between your quads and hamstrings, nestling the balls into a region that is directly below your IT band. 2 Let the balls sink in for 10 breaths. Imagine that they’re docking themselves between your quads and hamstrings.
3 Moving slowly, use the weight of your thigh to guide the balls forward (across the thigh, not lengthwise). You’ll use the deeply docked therapy balls to move your quads around your femur, mobilizing the lateral (outside) quad away from the hamstrings and creating a stretch between the bone and your quads. If done correctly, it will feel like a large hand is pivoting your thigh muscle around the bone.
4 Therapy balls will naturally roll (they are spheres, after all). Try to minimize rolling by using them to plow the entire section of muscle, which will cause your thigh to internally rotate. 5 Repeat for up to 10 minutes, moving slowly from the outside of your thigh toward the middle, then switch legs.