To Foam Roll the IT Band or Not to Foam Roll the IT Band?

There are about 50,000 articles on rolling or not rolling the IT band, or iliotibial band, on the internet right now. So now there’s 50,001 with my addition. There’s every topic from “you’ll never get the ITB to stretch out” to “don’t roll it because the problem is actually at your hip” to “keep rolling the ITB.”

I agree, the ITB is so thick and strong you are wasting your time to try to specifically stretch it or roll it out. According to an older article (1931) from the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery by C.M. Gratz, MD:

“The specific gravity of fascia lata is about 1.31 and the average ultimate tensile strength is approximately 7,000 pounds per square inch. Soft steel has a specific gravity of 7.83 and an ultimate strength of about 45,000 pounds per square inch. Thus fascia lata is nearly as strong as soft steel, weight for weight.”

Image courtesy MedBridge Education

Image courtesy MedBridge Education

The IT band needs to be a strong material. The IT band functions are to stabilize your knee and produce hip movement by working along with the tensor fascia latae and gluteus maximus muscles (refer to the image below). And yes, lateral knee overuse injuries, including IT band region problems, tend to be related to weakness or abnormal activity at the hip and trunk muscles. Maybe something is wrong down at the ankle and foot too.

You shouldn’t be relying on the rolling, or any soft tissue technique for that matter, to make up for lost strength or bad exercise mechanics. Those body mechanics need addressed and your strength needs to improve. It wouldn’t surprise me that a lateral knee pain sufferer would also have weak gluteus medius and gluteus maximus muscles. Most people could use stronger glutes. And maybe you shouldn't have suddenly done a 2 hour long workout when your longest had been 1 hour. 

What the anti-rolling crowd is forgetting is the fact that the IT band is covering a pretty big portion of quadriceps muscle. Because it’s generally a positive to routinely roll or massage the rest of the quadriceps, why would you suddenly neglect such a big part of it? I wouldn’t, personally.

And what if that lateral knee pain is actually coming from trigger points in the quadriceps? At least the rolling was helping to keep the quadriceps relaxed and generally making the nervous system happier.

If you bought into the “no ITB rolling” philosophy, think it over again. At the very least, use a tennis or lacrosse ball to roll the thigh directly in front of the IT band and directly behind it. Take care of your quadriceps and hamstrings muscles. Use the ball, massage stick, or foam roller on the tensor fascia latae muscle too, up at the front/side of each hip.

Strengthen your hips and keep on rolling.