Ever feel pain on the side of your hip or knee, but you’re not quite sure what’s causing it? While it’s always a good idea to talk to a doctor or physical therapist if you’re dealing with unexplained pain, chances are your iliotibial (IT) band is tight or inflamed.
Your IT band is the connective tissue that starts from the outside of the hip and runs to the side of the knee. If an IT band continues to cause friction and inflammation on the hip and knee joints, it can lead to iliotibial band syndrome (ITBS). While ITBS is commonly seen in cyclists and runners, it can happen to anyone who overuses these muscles.
Thankfully, there are stretches (and yoga poses!) that can help treat this condition and help relieve your pain. Here’s everything you need to know.
Best IT Band Stretches
“Since the IT band is a swath of connective tissue that supports the outer hip and knee, what you really want to stretch are the structures that attach to the IT band, the hips muscles being a key part of that,” says Tiffany Cruikshank, LAC, MAOM, global yoga expert and founder of Yoga Medicine.
- To come into this stretch rest your right ankle just above your left knee and draw the legs in toward your chest. You can grab around behind the thigh or the shin.
- Rest your head, torso and hips on the floor and stay for about 60 seconds on each side as you do your best to relax the whole body (neck, hips, back and legs in particular).
Revolved Figure 4
“I love this pose because not only does it get into the IT band, it also hits the hip muscles that pull on the IT band creating more tension there,” Cruikshank explains. “Keep in mind the goal in all of these stretches isn’t to eliminate tension entirely, since this is an important supportive structure, but to help maintain the health and pliability of these structures.”
- From figure 4 with your right ankle on your left knee, take both legs over to the left.
- Set your right foot on the floor and let your right knee point up toward the ceiling. You can use your left hand to support the right leg and help you relax there.
- Find a comfortable position for the arms as you slow down your breath and stay for about 60 seconds on each side.
Supine Twist Variation
“This pose unloads the spine to create an accessible approach to release the IT band, hip and spine all at once – the perfect trifecta for those with restriction in this area,” Cruikshank states.
- From your back, bend your knees in toward your chest and then take them over to the left to set them on the floor for a twist.
- Feel free to move the legs further away from your body or closer in to find a comfortable position here.
- If you’re comfortable there you can also try straightening the top leg out, partway or all the way (see picture).
- Stretch the arms out to the sides in a comfortable position.
- Stay for 1-2 minutes on each side and see if you can slow down your exhale to help the tissues and nervous system relax there.
“One of the most common issues I see, especially with those who are more active, is an inability for the IT band to freely glide over the quadriceps which can create friction, restriction and discomfort in this area. This move pins down the superficial layer as you move and helps restore the gliding motion between the layers here,” says Cruikshank.
- Grab a foam roller and from a side-lying position place it just above your outer knee.
- Set your hips & torso on the floor there, with your head in your hand.
- Rest your legs on the foam roller and try to relax as you bend one knee at a time (see picture).
- Repeat for 10-20 repetitions on each side.
Gomukasana Modification (Cow Face Pose Modification)
“The reality of our anatomy is that it doesn’t work in pieces but as a whole continuity,” Cruikshank explains. “This pose targets the entire swath of tissue from the armpit & side ribs down to the outer hip and IT band to look at the whole continuum.”
- From a seated position, stack one knee on top of the other. Don’t worry about it being exact, just stack them as best you can. If you have tension in the IT band area this one will be challenging so just find what you can here, we’re looking for a stretch through the outer hip thigh. That might be plenty, or you can lift the arm of the bottom leg, up and over into a side bend.
- Do your best to relax as you stay for about a minute on each side.