TFL: Tensor Fasciae Latae

Don’t foam roll your IT band!!

Haha! I don’t know how many times I say that. You cannot affect your IT band by foam rolling it. The most likely culprit is the Tensor Fasciae Latae (TFL).

I was teaching Yoga Fundamentals last night and we worked through my ideas about hip flexors and extensors. The TFL is a muscle that connects the upper hip to the IT band. It is responsible for both hip flexion and, to a lesser extent, leg abduction.

Runner’s often experience pain in their knee caused by the IT band. But the poor IT band isn’t the root cause. As you are running, you flex and extend your hip thousands of times. The major muscles doing the work begin to get tired and some of the stabilizer muscles end up taking over. When those get tired, they fail to lengthen properly. Eventually they shorten and may even form trigger points, which are knots that form in a muscle when it begins to revolt from overuse.

So what really happens? When you TFL begins to pull tightly to the IT band, the ITB in turn pulls directly below your knee on your outer leg. That friction that occurs can be super painful.

But, don’t blame the IT band. The ITB is a very dense, fibrous material much like a bone. It is so hard that it can’t really be affected. When you feel intense pain while foam rolling your outer leg, it is the vastus lateralis, your outer quadriceps. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, they call that part of the leg the Hornet’s Nest. Most of the population feels tenderness there. But its not your IT band. Because of the pain, you feel like you are doing something effective, when you’re not. Absolutely not!

Instead, work a lacrosse ball either on the floor or with the ball on a block. Its not a very large muscle, so the belly of the muscle should be worked especially in any tender spots. Then stretch it with a lizard pose with the hip of the extended leg toward the floor. Repeat the lacrosse ball and stretches multiple times for it to release.

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