Nearly everyone that has participated in distance running, or functional training has likely experienced hip discomfort at some point either in training or competition. Many people are quick to blame their IT Band, and proceed to beat the tissue to a pulp via their foam roller, dog toys, spoons, baseballs.. I have heard it all.
While there is some benefit to rolling out the vastus lateralis (under the IT band), foam rolling is highly over rated. A bit about the anatomy: The IT Band, short for iliotibial band, is actually not a muscle but fascia. Actually, it’s one of the largest pieces of fascia in the body.The purpose of this fascial sling is to provide spring during gait , and it is also thought to help to stabilize the hip. The point is the IT band is not the enemy, in fact you may be abusing an already over worked piece of tissue.
What is the TFL? The TFL short for Tensor Fasciae Latae is a small triangular shaped muscle. If you have hip pain right now I would bet it is tender. To find the muscle, locate the pointy bone just anterior and lateral to your belt line, this is known as your ASIS. From this point work your way around your waist line and you may notice some tenderness between your hip flexors and glutes, this is where the TFL muscle lies. This muscle will insert on the IT band and serve to regulate length and tonus of the band. Along with aiding in hip flexion and internal rotation, the TFL muscle is also a hip stabilizer (think alignment on a car).
Why the TFL? If you follow along my blog you know that I believe many of our muscluloskeletal problems come from lifestyle, and poor or incorrect posture causing excessive wear and tear. The same can be true here, when we adapt to a sitting posture (if you commute an hour each way to work and then sit at a desk all day, this is you). The hip flexor’s become excessively tight as well as the lower back muscles. On the other end, the glutes and abs become neurologically inhibited due to the fact that they are not needed when you are sitting. The problem is, when you do run, or get active these muscles forget to do their job. Fortunately (and unfortunately) the TFL is already in a “hyperactive” state due to being shortened (contracted) all day. This means that this muscle is now doing all of the stabilizing work of the glutes. I like to use the analogy the TFL is like a VW trying to pull a an eighteen wheeler. It simply is not possible without harm.
So there you have it, now give that IT band a rest!
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