If you’re rolling your Iliotibial Band (ITB), it’s likely because you are feeling some sort of pain along the outside of your knee. Many runners, especially long distance runners experience this problem. The ITB can become irritated and inflamed due to friction when it’s overused. But just because you are feeling the pain near your knee doesn’t mean this is the cause of the pain. This is the first step to understanding why rolling your ITB is likely NOT the complete solution to your problem.
1) Tight Muscles
When we think of a muscle being tight our first thought is to stretch it, but the ITB is not a muscle, it’s a tendon, so what do we do? Think of a tendon as the middleman. Its job is to attach muscle to bone, therefore to lengthen we actually need to stretch the muscle that is attached to the tendon, not the tendon itself. When we think about lengthening the ITB it is important to focus on the muscle portion, which is actually located above the hip. It stems primarily from the Tensor Fasciae Latae (TFL) as well as the Gluteus Maximus. Acupuncture can be used to release these tight muscles, which is a big step in the treatment process. It’s also important to think about stretching the antagonist/opposite muscles, this being the adductors or inner thigh muscles in the case of the ITB.
2) Weak Muscles
A weak Gluteus Medius, which is especially common in runners can contribute to a tight ITB. If one muscle is weak that means another muscle has to work harder to pick up the slack. By strengthening the gluteus medius we can take some of the load off the ITB. Acupuncture plays an important role in this because it can help stimulate a muscle that is not used to “working”. It can also be beneficial to athletes by helping to support their athletic performance.
This includes things like flat feet and leg length discrepancy. If these problems are present and continue to be ignored, it may be difficult to ever make progress with ITB tension. These causes are easy to diagnose though and can often be treated by using proper footwear or orthotics, so don’t overlook it.
But I like rolling my ITB so why should I stop?
I never said STOP rolling, in fact rolling the ITB is part of the treatment process. According to a study by Fredericson M, Weir A. Practical management of iliotibial band friction syndrome in runners; rolling the ITB is the first step in the treatment process. It works by releasing myofascial restrictions of the ITB. So go for it! Roll away, but if that’s where your treatment plan ends it’s likely that all your rolling will get you nowhere long term.
The point is you need to look at other aspects like strengthening your gluteus medius, releasing muscle tension in the TFL and gluteus maximus and stretching your adductor muscles to fix your chronically tight ITB. Using acupuncture as part of the treatment process can help you achieve these results.