Suffering from painful IT bands? Try these soothing stretches to relieve tight IT bands and balance the muscles around them.
The Iliotibial tract band – IT band – is a long ligament that runs down the outside of your upper leg. This band of tissue connects to the hip via the tensor fascia latae (TFL) and the gluteus maximus and to the knee via the tibialis anterior (1) and the peroneus longus (2). The IT band helps to stabilize and move the knee joint, and tightness or inflammation of this band can lead to problems like IT band syndrome and knee and hip pain.
A common misconception about the IT band is that you can stretch it. However, because the IT band is a ligament, not a muscle, you need to stretch the muscles connected to it. Stretching a tendon or ligament can lead to injury.
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IT band issues are caused when the muscles that connect to the IT band become unbalanced. It is common for the TFL to be stronger than the gluteus maximus and the peroneus longus to be stronger than the tibialis anterior. These imbalances lead directly to the knee pain that is so common from a tight IT band.
These soothing stretches will help to decrease imbalances in the muscles connected to the IT bands, thereby relieving IT band tightness.
9 Stretches to Relieve Tight IT Bands
Hold each stretch for 30 seconds per side.
Crossed Ankle Standing Half Moon
This stretch helps to release tightness in the peroneus longus, tibialis anterior, and the TFL.
- Begin by standing up and crossing your left ankle in front of your right. Bring your pinky toes as close together as they will comfortably come, and make sure both feet are firmly on the ground.
- Reach your arms above your head and grab your right wrist with your left hand. Take a breath in to find a long spine and engage your abs.
- Then, exhale and use your left hand to pull your right hand over your head to the left. Feel a stretch through the outside of your right leg and upper body. Hold for 30 seconds and then come back to center. Switch sides by crossing your right ankle in front of your left.
Wall IT Band Stretch
This stretch helps to release tightness in the TFL.
- To begin, stand slightly more than arm’s distance from a wall with your right side facing it.
- Lean your right hand on the wall, with your right arm straight. Place your left hand on your hip. Keeping your legs straight and your hips square, move your right hip toward the wall until you feel a stretch in your right outer hip.
- Squeeze your glutes and engage your abs. Hold for 30 seconds, then repeat, turning your left side toward the wall.
Crossed Ankle Forward Fold
This stretch helps to release tension in the TFL and the gluteus maximus.
- Start standing up and cross your right ankle in front of your left. Bring your pinky toes as close together as they will comfortably come, and have a small bend in both knees.
- Fold forward with a flat back, reaching your hands towards the ground. Bend your knees as much as you need to in order to have your fingertips on the ground.
- Walk your fingertips over to the right to feel a stretch through the TFL and IT band on your left leg. Hold for 30 seconds, then walk your hands back to center and rise up to stand. Switch sides.
This stretch opens up the TFL and the gluteus maximus.
- Start in a low lunge with your right foot between your hands. Hop your left foot up a few inches until you can place your left heel on the ground. Your left toes should point forward at a 45-degree angle. Straighten out both legs to find a pyramid shape. Fold your chest over your right thigh, keeping the knee slightly bent if you need to, in order to keep your hands on the ground.
- Place your left fingertips down inside of your right foot and lift your chest to find a flat back.
- Inhale to reach your right arm up towards the sky, twisting your upper body. You should feel a stretch through the TFL and the IT band of your right leg. Hold for 30 seconds and then switch legs.
Revolved Forward Fold
This stretch releases tension in the TFL and the gluteus maximus.
- Start in a forward fold with your feet at a wider than hip-width distance.
- Place your right hand down between your feet. Keep your left leg straight and bend your right knee. Lift your chest slightly to find a flat back while keeping your hand on the ground, and inhale to twist left and to reach your left arm up towards the sky.
- Feel the stretch through your left TFL and gluteus maximus. Hold for 30 seconds and then release your left hand back down. Switch sides.
This stretches the TFL and the gluteus maximus.
- Start by standing up with your feet together and your hands on your hips. Bend both knees to start to lower your hips back into a half squat.
- Shift your weight onto your left foot and pick your right foot up off of the ground. Then, bend your right knee and cross the ankle over your left thigh. Keep bending into your left leg to sit low.
- Place your right hand on the inside of your right thigh to deepen the stretch and hold for 30 seconds. Then slowly stand all the way back up and switch sides.
Reclined IT Band Stretch
This stretch releases tension from the TFL, the peroneus longus, and the tibialis anterior.
- To begin, lie down on your back with your knees bent and your feet on the floor. Pick your right foot up off of the ground and place the loop in your strap around your right foot. Straighten your left leg down the mat.
- Start to straighten your right leg out, reaching the right heel towards the ceiling. Place the strap in your left hand and reach your right arm straight out to the side.
- Use your left hand to draw your right leg across your body. Keep your right shoulder down and turn your head to the right. Feel the stretch through your right IT band and your spine. Hold for 30 seconds, and then use your abs to lift your right leg back to center. Release the strap from your right foot and switch sides.
Single Leg Seated Forward Fold
This stretch relieves tension in the gluteus maximus.
- Start by sitting on the floor. Straighten your right leg out in front of you and bend your left knee, placing your left foot on the inside of your right thigh.
- Sit up tall and square your chest and shoulders over your right leg. Inhale and reach your arms above your head, finding a long spine. Exhale and fold over your right thigh with a flat back.
- Grab for the bottom of your right foot, bending your right knee as much as you need to reach it. You should feel a stretch through your right IT band and hamstrings. Hold for 30 seconds and then slowly roll back up. Switch legs.
Crossed Leg Twist
This stretch relieves tension in the TFL.
- Start sitting down with your knees bent and your feet on the floor.
- Straighten your left leg out in front of you and flex the left foot. Then, bend your right knee and cross your right leg over your left, bringing your right foot to the floor outside of your left leg.
- Place your right hand down to the floor behind your right hip and wrap your left arm around your right shin. Inhale to sit up taller, then exhale to twist deeper. Hold for 30 seconds and then unwind on an inhale. Switch sides.