Are you walking side to side like Ariana… except *ahem* because of IT band tightness (instead of sex so good you had to write a song about it)?

The iliotibial (IT) band is a thick band of tissue (aka fascia) that runs along the outside of your leg from thigh to knee. When your IT band has its sh*t together, it keeps your knees stable and helps with hip extension, rotation, and side-to-side movements.

When it gets too tight, it can feel like a taut rubber band, limiting motion and causing pain (no, thanks 😬).

But should you use a foam roller on your IT band?

Yup. You can use a foam roller directly on your IT band — just make sure to avoid rolling directly over your knee or hip joint.

Rolling out the muscles around your IT band may also help relieve tightness. And keep in mind that not every type of IT band tightness warrants a roll-out. Let us explain.

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If we’re talking about just some mild tightness — the kind that doesn’t make you wince when you walk — a foam roller might be a decent option to loosen up your IT.

But remember: Don’t roll directly on your knee or hip joint. Instead, try foam roller exercises that target your IT band, glutes, hips, quads, hams, and calves. Tackling the rest of your leg can help ease tension in the IT band.

To get the most out of foam rolling, keep these tips in mind:

  • Use a soft foam roller rather than one labeled “dense,” “firm,” or “hard.”
  • Apply gentle, even pressure. If you yelp, you’ve gone too far!
  • Work slowly. (Everyone knows the tortoise wins the race.)
  • Step by step, baby: Take it one small section at a time.
  • Use a mat to cushion your bod and keep things comfy.

If you’ve experienced severe or prolonged IT band-related pain, using a foam roller may not be the most effective treatment.

Instead, start by focusing on easing tightness in your hip and leg muscles, including the tensor fasciae latae muscle (located on the outside of your hip). You might find that loosening this baby up immediately soothes your IT band.

In a 2020 study, increasing hip strength and flexibility appeared to help relieve symptoms of iliotibial band syndrome in female runners.

Besides, if your IT band is super, super tight, foam rolling might be a little too uncomfy and painful. And if you do it incorrectly (it’s pretty easy to mess up, TBH), it could actually do more harm than good.

Research from 2019 suggests that foam rolling is moderately effective for increasing flexibility and decreasing muscle pain before a workout. But researchers found that it had little impact on injury recovery, so it might not be a go-to for more severe issues.

If you’re experiencing serious IT band pain, soreness, or tightness, your body’s sending you a message to take a break. Rest up and halt any activities that might worsen your discomfort. That way, your bod can heal.

In the meantime, here are a few more ways to treat the tightness:

  • nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), like ibuprofen
  • an ice pack or heating pad (try 15 mins at a time, a couple times a day)
  • stretching (check the moves below)
  • acupuncture
  • sports massage
  • self-massaging with over-the-counter muscle rubs or essential oils

The IT band is notoriously tough, and stretching it out can be a royal pain.

Here are the best stretches and exercises you can do to help a tight IT band. For the best results, do these moves at least 3 times a week.

Clamshells

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Image by Dima Bazak
  1. Lie on your side.
  2. Bend knees and stack them. Use your lower arm to support your noggin.
  3. Keep feet together as you flex core muscles and raise top knee.
  4. Slowly lower knee back down.
  5. Repeat on the other side.
  6. Do 3 sets of 15 reps.

Cross-ankle standing forward bend

  1. Stand with right ankle crossed in front of left. Bend knees a little.
  2. Hinge at hips and fold forward, placing hands on the floor. (If you can’t reach the floor, use a block or a thick book.)
  3. Shift right leg back and left leg forward.
  4. Hold for 30 seconds to 1 minute.
  5. Repeat on the other side.
  6. Repeat 3 times.

IT band stretch

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Image by Dima Bazak
  1. Stand and cross right leg over left leg.
  2. Reach right hand over your head and put left hand on left hip.
  3. Lean slowly to the left until you feel a stretch.
  4. Hold for 30 seconds.
  5. Repeat on the other side.
  6. Repeat 3 times on each side.

Figure four

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Image by Dima Bazak
  1. Lie on your back with left foot flat on the floor, about 6 inches from your hip.
  2. Bend right knee and place right ankle on left thigh, just above left knee.
  3. Lace your fingers together behind left thigh. Pull thigh toward chest.
  4. Hold this position for 20 seconds to 1 minute.
  5. Repeat on the other side.
  6. Repeat 3 times on each side.

Gimme more stretches

You can also try hip and booty exercises like side-lying hip abductions or squats to keep your IT band in check.

Listen to your bod. To prevent IT band problems in the future, tune in to what your body’s telling you during exercise. While hard work and dedication are admirable, don’t push yourself too hard — especially if you start to feel some tension and tightness creep back in.

Take some R&R. Rest between workouts so your muscles can recover. After a high impact activity like jogging, try low impact exercises like yoga, swimming, or Pilates to let your body restore and recover.

Stretch it out. Make sure to stretch #ErryDay and warm up and cool down before you get moving.

Fuel yourself. Eating healthy, well-rounded meals and staying hydrated can also do a lot for your muscles, especially on your workout days.

Get strong. Strengthening your hips and glutes can be especially effective for treating and preventing IT band tightness.

Tight IT bands happen due to repetitive movements, muscle overuse, or tight or weak surrounding muscles. Cyclists, runners, and weightlifters often deal with IT band issues.

Other potential causes of IT band tightness include:

  • tight or weak hips, glutes, or abs
  • muscle imbalance, inflexibility, or weakness
  • long periods of sitting, especially with bent knees (hello, WFH life)
  • knee arthritis
  • unequal leg lengths
  • exercising with poor form
  • wearing ill-fitting shoes
  • not warming up or cooling down
  • bow legs

If you have severe or long-lasting IT band tightness that doesn’t improve with at-home remedies, it may be time to talk a pro. A physical therapist can help you find the cause of your issue and create a customized treatment plan to help you get back on track.

Most likely, they’ll create a treatment plan and exercise regimen that will help relieve tightness, build muscle strength, and improve flexibility. Together, you’ll track your progress and create a prevention regimen to avoid these probs down the road.

If you want to use a foam roller for IT band pain but aren’t sure if it’s right for you, a certified PT can also assess your situation and show you the ropes.

tl;dr

  • A foam roller can help treat mild IT band tightness, as long as you use it carefully and as instructed.
  • If you have severe or prolonged pain, ditch the foal roller. Rest up and focus on stretching and building strength in your hips and glutes.
  • NSAIDs (like ibuprofen), hot and cool compresses, and massage may also provide relief.
  • If at-home methods don’t work, hit up a certified PT.