If you’re a runner, you might be familiar with the sharp, icy-feeling, or cramp-like pain in your knee or hip caused by a tight IT (iliotibial) band. Lots of other people have written excellent posts about what the IT band is and how you can strengthen, stretch, and heal what’s known as IT Band Syndrome (ITBS). So, instead of rehashing their great material, I’m going to move forward and talk a bit about what has worked for me in the past (and currently) when dealing with IT band troubles.
IT Band Pain
I’ve been a runner my whole life, for over 25 years (yes, I’m well over 25! Haha. Ahem.) Over time, I’ve had occasional bouts of knee pain, almost always due to IT band trouble. The pain is very specific and unlike any other knee pain, i.e., it doesn’t occur under the kneecap but along the outer edge of the knee. The pain can be sharp and excruciating sometimes, causing a mid-run stop and a week or longer off running if I push it. Which always = boofreakinghoo!
When a flare-up happens, the first thing to do is always RICE: rest, ice, compression, elevation. After the acute period, try massage, foam rolling, and (this is debatable in some circles but always works for me) hot Epsom salt baths several times a week. An anti-inflammatory diet, loaded with alkalizing green juice and fresh vegetables, will also help recovery.
Cross-Train for Balance
But as a long-time yogini and yoga teacher, I know there’s more to it than just foam-rolling and taking ibuprofen. Our bodies work holistically, so an imbalance in one area will lead to an imbalance elsewhere, sometimes not where you’d expect. With a tight IT band, your imbalance is likely in your pelvis and hips (it is with me), but it could stem from an imbalance in your feet, calves, spine, or even shoulders.
That’s why when training for a running race, it’s so important to do more than just run! Adding total body cross-training to your mix will help to balance your body, which will in turn make your runs even more efficient. Yoga is an excellent choice (and provides way more benefits than just physical), but swimming, Pilates, and weight training are also great options.
I also believe, as you’ve heard me mention before, that practicing Legs Up the Wall (Viparita Karani) is one of the best things you can do for daily overall health and wellbeing. In addition to its whole-body benefits, it helps the deep hip muscles to release the thigh bones, which can relieve a lot of tightness in the IT band!
Right now, I’m 14 weeks away from my first marathon, and I’ve been having some pain. And you know what? For the last month, I’ve almost only been running! A bit of yoga before and after my runs, but that’s it. No strength training, no Pilates, and I just got back to open-water swimming a couple of weeks ago. It’s been a fun running kick, but I got off balance. Based on past experience, it’s no wonder my IT band said, “Stop! You’ve gotta do something else for a while!”
So, I’ve been giving my runs a cool-down period, while upping my yoga, Pilates, strength-training, and swimming, which has always helped in the past. I’m focusing on building strong hips while releasing tension that lies deep in my hip joints and glutes. For now, it is working and I will be good to go. As long as I remember, “Yoga teacher, heal thyself”… and practice what I preach :-)
Yoga Poses for Your IT (iliotibial) Band
The following yoga poses are ones that I’ve found work very well to stretch my glutes and deep hips, which in turn help to release the tension in my IT band. It’s important that those muscles are strong and solid, but it’s equally important that I don’t have a tight ass (in more ways than one, ha).
One of my favorite yoga practices for hip release is Yin Yoga, which requires holding deep poses for a very long time. It’s an advanced practice, however, and not suitable for those newer to yoga. The poses below are also not suitable for absolute beginners. However, if you have a regular yoga practice and/or can take these poses to a teacher who can help you with the correct alignment, you might find that they help to release your hips in a deep and powerful way.
Please be careful and always listen to your body. Discomfort is one thing, but pain is not yoga. Never force yourself into a pose you’re not ready for. And if you’re currently experiencing IT band pain, remember to try RICE first and then yoga when it’s not acute anymore. If you have any medical concerns or questions about your own IT band pain, please consult a doctor, physical therapist, or sports medicine professional.
As with anything, your mileage may vary. Take what works for you and leave what doesn’t.
Final note: Click on the title of each pose for a link to a more detailed description of each pose! I wrote 99% of the yoga & Pilates guides for the linked-to website (iSport.com), so you know you’re getting quality material ;-)
- Stand at the top of your mat. Turn to the left and step your feet two to three feet apart. Align your heels.
- Turn your right foot out 90 degrees so your toes point to the top of the mat. Align the center of your right kneecap with your right foot. Pivot your left foot inward to a 45-degree angle.
- Square your hips forward. Place your right hand on your hip. Raise your left arm, reaching up strongly through your left hand.
- Exhaling, hinge forward from your hips. Keep your spine long. Place your left hand at the outside of your right foot (or on a block) and open your torso to the right.
- Keep your right hip in line with your left hip.
- Roll your right shoulder back and extend your right arm straight up. Reach your right fingertips to the ceiling.
- Turn your head to gaze at your right thumb.
- Keep your hips level. Press firmly through your back heel.
- Hold for up to one minute. Gently release the twist. Press firmly through your left heel, inhale, and lift your torso upright. Release your arms. Repeat for the same length of time on the opposite side.
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Separate your feet hip-width.
- Straighten your left leg and extend your heel up toward the ceiling. Bend your left knee and cross your left ankle over your right knee. Flex your left foot.
- Draw your right knee in toward your chest. Slide your left hand and forearm through the space between your legs and clasp both hands around your right shin or thigh.
- Keep your back flat on the mat. Relax your shoulder blades. Draw your tailbone down toward the mat, lengthening your spine. Tuck your chin slightly and gaze down the center line of your body.
- Hold for up to one minute. Release your leg and place your right foot on the floor. Repeat the pose on the opposite side for the same amount of time.
- Begin in Downward-Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana) or on your hands and knees in Table Pose.
- Bring your right knee between your hands, placing your right ankle near your left wrist. Extend your left leg behind you so your kneecap and the top of your foot rest on the floor.
- Press through your fingertips to lift your torso away from your thigh. Lengthen the front of your body. Release your tailbone back toward your heels.
- Draw down through your right shin and balance your weight evenly between your right and left hips. Flex your right foot.
- If you are flexible enough, drape your torso over your front shin. Stretch your arms forward along the mat. Allow your forehead to rest by placing it on the mat, your hands, a folded blanket, or a yoga block. Also allow your body weight to rest on your front leg as you continue to square your hips.
- Hold for up to one minute. To release the pose, tuck your back toes, lift your back knee off the mat, and then press yourself back into Downward-Facing Dog. Repeat for the same amount of time on the other side.
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor.
- Draw both knees to your chest and clasp your hands around them.
- Extend your left leg along the floor. Keep your right knee drawn to your chest.
- Extend your right arm out along the floor at shoulder-height with your palm facing down.
- Shift your hips slightly to the right. Then, place your left hand on the outside of your right knee. Exhaling, drop your right knee over the left side of your body. Keep your left hand resting gently on your right knee.
- Turn your head to the right. Soften your gaze toward your right fingertips. Keep your shoulder blades pressing toward the floor and away from your ears. Allow the force of gravity to drop your knee even closer to the floor. If your right toes can touch the floor, allow your foot to rest.
- Hold the pose for up to 5 minutes. On an inhalation, slowly come back to center, bringing both knees to your chest.
- Exhale, and extend your right leg along the floor. Repeat steps 4-7 on the opposite side.
- When you’re finished with the pose, hug your knees to your chest for a few breaths. Then, slowly exhale as you extend both legs along the floor.
- Sit on the floor with your legs extended, spine straight, and arms resting at your sides.
- Bend your right knee and hug it to your chest. Then bring your right ankle to rest just above your left kneecap.
- Bend your left knee. Slide your left shin beneath your right shin, bringing your left ankle directly underneath your right knee.
- Work toward bringing your shins parallel to the top edge of your mat, keeping your right shin stacked directly above your left shin. Both shins should be at 90-degree angles to each thigh.
- Flex your feet and press through your heels. Spread your toes.
- Press your groins toward the floor and sit up straight. Keep the front of your torso long.
- Rest your fingertips on the floor at either side of your body, or fold your torso over your crossed legs.
- Soften your face. Hold for up to one minute.
- Release the pose by very slowly and gently extending both legs along the floor. Repeat the pose for the same amount of time with the opposite leg on top.