Stretching has a stellar reputation as a recovery modality, but we sometimes forget that not all forms of bendiness serve us in the long run. Certain moves can slow down, rather than accelerate, the speed at which we recover, and Cameron Yuen, DPT, a doctor of physical therapy at Bespoke Treatments in New York City, says far too many of us are still doing what he considers the worst IT Band stretch the limber-loving world has to offer.
Yuen says he’s just not a fan of the classic ITB stretch (sorry, cyclists, runners, and basketball players!), which involves crossing one leg in front of the other and stretching the same arm up toward the ceiling. “This stretch isn’t so dangerous, but it is ineffective and could make some people’s pain worse,” says Yuen. “The thought with this stretch is that you are lengthening the ITB, so you are then less likely to get ITB pain on the side of your knee. This is flawed for several reasons.”
“It is almost physically impossible to stretch the IT band in this position.” —Cameron Yuen, DPT
First of all, Yuen says that the IT Band just isn’t all that willing to stretching in the first place. “It is almost physically impossible to stretch the IT band in this position, as it literally takes hundreds of pounds of force to deform it by millimeters. This is because the ITB is dense connective tissue that needs to be stiff for force transfer through the femur,” he says. In addition, this stretch stands to compress the ITB against the periosteum (that’s science for the connective tissue surrounding joints), which will make your ITB even less happy.
Since the ITB is not all that interested in moving, Yuen says your best course of action is to stretch the muscles attached to it: the tensor fascia latae (or “TFL” muscle in the thigh) and the glutes. Below, he gives a replacement stretch to add to your routine. Plus, a foam roller move to try ASAP.
The ITB stretch a physical therapist recommends every day
- Come into a low lunge with your left foot forward and your right knee down on the ground. This is called “half-kneeling hip flexor stretch”
- “Instead of pushing you hips forward, you are going to push the hips forward and slightly outward. So if your right knee was down, you would be pushing your hips forward and slightly out towards the right,” says Yuen. Bringing your hips forward, says Yuen, will transform half-kneeling hip flexor stretch into “half-kneeling muscles around the ITB stretch.” (Really rolls off the tongue, right?)
- Switch sides.
Want to foam roll instead? Here’s how to treat the muscles surrounding your IT band
- Grab your foam roller and start off by rolling out the TFL and lateral glutes with either a foam roller or lacrosse ball. “The TFL is right off the side of your hip flexor area at the lateral crease of your hip, and the lateral glutes are just behind the TFL,” says Yuen.
- Repeat on the opposite side.