Getting Acquainted with Your IT Band
In a recent Daily Bellydance Quickie, I demonstrated two stretches for the Iliotibial band, more commonly known as the IT band. Today let’s learn a little more about what this important structure does and how we can keep it healthy and pain-free.
What is the IT band?
The IT band is a fibrous strap that runs from the hip down the outside of the thigh, across the knee, attaching to the tibia. The tendons of the gluteus maximus and tensor fasciae latae insert onto the band as well.
What does the IT band do?
The IT band stabilizes the knee in extension and partial flexion. Because it is fibrous and tough, it provides structural support to the hip and knee joints, and the outer muscles of the hip, thigh and knee. The gluteus maximus laterally rotates, abducts and extends the hip. The tensor fasciae latae assists in flexing the hip and also abducting the leg. Because the IT band is part of this unit and crosses the knee, it helps support the joint during these actions.
Why do we need to stretch the IT band?
The IT band does not have the elasticity of a muscle, but it can become tight. This tightness can cause pain anywhere from the hip, down the outer thigh to the the knee. An excess of tension combined with repetitive motion in a certain range can also cause painful irritation at the outside of the knee. This is often seen in runners and cyclists that use the 30-45 degree range of flexion where the band passes over the lateral epicondyle on the femur. This is basically a bony bump on the outside of your thigh bone. Belly dancers that cross train with running, cycling or hiking should take care to stretch the IT band regularly after these activities and after dancing. Also, if your personal shimmy style uses big, loose knee action this same mechanism could cause knee pain through the repetitive motion.
How do we stretch the IT band?
I demonstrated a couple maintenance stretches on the Daily Bellydance Quickes. These are easy to incorporate into your post-workout or post-dance cool down. As mentioned before, the IT band is not as elastic as muscle, so some people use more intense means to reduce tightness, for example using a foam roller. Properly done, this can be very effective, though most people do not find it pleasant or relaxing. Prevention is always better than treating a problem. Tough tissues like the IT band have less blood supply than muscles so they take longer to heal once they are injured or inflamed. Bellydancers and other active types can get quite frustrated and impatient to get back to dancing and other activities while waiting to heal. A little preventive care with stretching is time well spent.
Also, please remember that if you are actively experiencing pain in this area during or after dancing or any other activity, it is best to seek the advice of a physician or physical therapist before proceeding with any stretching, foam rolling or other self-treatment. Let’s dance safe and dance for a lifetime!