Why Your IT Band and a Foam Roller Don't Mix



Most exercisers roll out their IT band in an attempt to "relax a tight" IT band or otherwise deal with IT band syndrome. Typically diagnosed by pain felt on the outside of the knee, where the band attaches to bone. But here's the thing, when you roll out your IT band, you don't actually relax it. After all, it doesn't contract, so it can't really relax out of any hypothetical over-contraction.

However, with enough regular rolling, you can most certainly irritate and inflame the tissue, explains Meghan Callaway, CPT, a Canada-based strength coach. Potentially, you could also work the tissue enough to elongate it. For instance, a 2017 study published in the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy suggests the IT band might be able to lengthen up to 2.75% with stretching. (Note, however, that the study looked at stretching rather than foam rolling.) Before you get excited about lengthening your IT band, don't. Lengthening the tissue may actually reduce its ability to keep your lower body working as it should and, most important, keep your body safe.

"When you fire the muscles in your hip, they pull on the IT band, which helps to move and control the knee," explains Janet Hamilton, CSCS, an exercise physiologist at Running Strongin Atlanta. "You want the IT band to be nice and tight, so that when your hip does something, the knee goes: Yes, sir! and responds as it should. If it's loose, that won't happen, and that's where you can get into poor biomechanics and performance as well as an increase in injury risk."

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