If you spend a lot of time sitting every day, there’s a good chance you’re feeling the aftermath. Those long hours in a chair can result in extra stress on your IT band, causing you to feel uncomfortable tightness or pain in your lower body. And while IT band stretches can help, they look a little different than you may think.
Contrary to popular belief, your IT band—or iliotibial band, a tendon that runs from the outside of your leg from slightly above your hip to just below the knee—can’t actually be stretched. “Its function is to really act as a stabilizer for your lower leg,” says Jen Tallman, a personal trainer and fitness instructor in New York City. “It’s very common for people to try to stretch it or roll it out, but it’s just painful and doesn’t actually help.” What does help, though, is targeting the surrounding muscles.
The pain you’re experiencing in your IT band area likely isn’t due to your IT band. It’s due to weak glutes and hips. “Sitting for long periods of time will create ‘lazy glutes,’ which just means they have a harder time firing when you need them to, which can put stress on areas like the IT band and our knees,” she says. Your best bet is working on strengthening weak glutes and hips, as well as stretching those areas to find some relief.
To resolve any tightness you’re feeling in your IT band, try Tallman’s top three stretches below.
The best IT band stretches to try when you’re feeling tight
1. Threading the needle stretch
- Lying supine on the ground, lift your feet off the ground and bring your legs to table top.
- Cross one ankle over the opposite thigh (make sure your anklebone clears your thigh) and reach your hands through.
- Clasp your hands together at the back of the thigh.
- Hug that leg in closer, but avoid lifting your shoulder blades up to prevent strain in the neck.
2. Half kneeling hip flexor stretch
- Grab a pillow or double up your yoga mat for support.
- In a half kneeling position, place the pillow or mat underneath the knee that’s touching the ground.
- Lean into the stretch while also thinking about tucking your pelvis under and squeezing your glutes.
- If you want to make the stretch deeper, reach back and try to touch your foot on the knee-down leg. You can even prop that leg up against a wall or couch for a great stretch.
3. Pigeon pose
- Beginning in a high plank position, bring your knee toward your chest, bend your leg, and think about placing the side of your knee and upper leg on the ground.
- Place your other leg straight behind you and fold yourself over your bent knee.
- Depending on your flexibility, you may not be able to fold far. Just listen to your body and breathe into this hip opener.
Make sure you’re doing a pigeon pose correctly: