The IT band is a band of fascia that runs from the outer hip to the outer knee. IT band tightness can be responsible for pains in the hip and knee. When I was working in the orthopedic clinic, so many people came in with hip pain. The majority of the time, it was greater trochanteric (hip) bursitis. Alternatively, if you’ve heard of “runner’s knee”, it may be irritation from the IT band near the knee (See picture below). Many times, a few simple IT band stretches can help prevent or relieve these conditions.
Please note: there are many other factors to consider with these injuries and pain. Hip strength, core strength, back mobility, feet alignment, posture, among many others, all play a big part in the formation of lower body injuries. This is just one part of the whole picture. IT band stretches can offer relief and allow more mobility and loosening in the area.
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IT Band Stretches
What is the IT band? It’s formally the Iliotibial band, referring to where it attaches (iliac) and where it inserts (tibia). It’s the band of fascia that runs along the outside of your leg, from the iliac crest (your hip bone) to Gerdy’s tubercle (which is a small bump below and slightly to the outside of your knee cap. It makes up the Tensor Fascia Latae, fascia or “muscle” technically that binds all the muscles that are around teh outer leg. You can imagine the types of problems caused if this is tight, pain and misalignment. The muscles that make up this area abduct the hip (move the leg away from the body). It is difficult to stretch a fascia area, but there are a few that may help.
This is an injury where the IT band irritates at the knee. It feels like outer knee pain. This often happens when knees are a little bowed or if you guessed it, running a lot. Basically there is a lot of tension on the IT band pulling on that area and causing irritation.
This is an injury where the hip bursa is inflamed (the greater trochanter bursa), which is on the outside bony part of the hip. This bursa can become irritated with tight IT band and muscles in the area or misalignment, even with knock knees and foot posture. There are many factors, as I stated, but outer IT band stretches will help. Commonly people will have pain laying on that side with this condition.
IT Band Stretches
Some may argue that the leg has to be straight with IT band stretches. We are trying to get around this area and anything that gets the outer hip will help.
To start, try 10-30 seconds about 1-3 times, whatever you’re most comfortable with. It is not a particular time frame you need to do. If you feel like you really need it, go longer. If you can only get in 10 seconds, that’s totally fine too.
I categorized them as an easy, intermediate, or hard stretch. Most of us fit in the categories of needing easy and maybe some intermediate. I included one hard one for you folks that need an extra challenge. Remember we are all different. You may consider the easy one hard or the intermediate ones easy. Our bodies are different, so do what you can. If you feel any pain, stop!
Supine Outer Hip Stretch [easy]
This is my favorite and anyone should be able to do this one. If you don’t have a strap, I think you would probably at least have a towel or a belt to use. Don’t worry about how far up your leg gets, any position should work.
- Lay on your back with legs out straight
- Bring right leg to chest and loop strap around your right arch
- Straighten right leg and don’t worry how straight or close to your chest it is
- Let right leg fall over left leg
- You should feel a stretch in the outer hip
Sidelying Stretch [easy]
This one is done on a bed or couch with the leg hanging off the side. Be careful not to roll off! I took the picture on the mat to be consistent and you can really do it anywhere too. Many people will not feel this one but it’s important to consider all levels and abilities.
- Lay on your left side (side not being stretched)
- Let the right leg fall behind you (again, a bed or couch gives it a little more ways to go)
Standing Outer Hip Stretch [easy]
This is another easy one that anyone should be able to do. Some more flexible may not feel this one either. This is similar to a basic hamstring stretch while focusing on the outer hip.
- Stand in front of a chair, or any other stable surface to put your leg on
- Lift right leg up onto chair
- Twist the body to the right and reach for the right leg, so you feel it along your right outer hip
- Reach forward otherwise if it’s easier
- Rest hand anywhere comfortable on leg
Figure 4 Stretch [easy]
- Start seated with legs bent out in front of you use arms as a brace for behind
- Cross the right ankle to meet the left knee
- Feel a stretch in the outer hip
Twisting Hip Stretch [intermediate]
This is my favorite stretch I try to do every day. To make it more effective, hold onto your ankle of the leg that’s crossed over.
- Lay on your back
- Bring your legs into a figure 4 position or see that stretch position above
- Bring left ankle to right knee, keep ankle flexed
- Let the body fall to the right as if you were doing a lower back twist
- Hold onto the ankle and you will feel this deep in the hip
- If it’s too much, let arms go out to the sides
- Keep the left knee upright and pushing away
Twisting Spine Stretch [intermediate]
This can be used instead of the twisting hip stretch seen below in the intermediate portion.
- Lay on your back
- Cross the right leg completely over the left
- Twist to the right
- Use your right leg to push the upper left leg towards the ground
- Be careful not to push directly on the knee
Pigeon Pose [intermediate]
This can be easy for some and very difficult for others.
- Bring the right leg across in front at the best 90 degree angle you can attempt
- It’s okay if the lower leg is not parallel
- Keep the left leg straight behind you
- If you’re comfortable, let yourself rest down on your elbows
- Feel free to put a block or cushion underneath the right butt to make it less intense
Sitting Pigeon Pose [intermediate]
This one can be very intense especially if you are super tight.
- Start sitting cross-legged
- Bring the right leg over the left leg so the ankles and the knees are stacked
- Make sure the ankles stay flexed to protect your knees (keeps muscles working so ligaments can stay protected)
- If it’s too much, rest arms behind you to give yourself more space
- If it’s easy, let yourself rest forward over your knees
Lunge IT Band Stretch [hard]
This is another one of my favorites but it can be difficult, especially on the wrist.
- Start in a low lunge position, right leg bent, left straight behind
- Bring left arm to ground to hold yourself up
- Turn the body to face the right
- Reach right arm up while turning the weight to the outside of the right foot and the inside of the left foot, such as a side plank
- Feel it in the right outer hip
Bonus: Foam Rolling
Foam rolling the outside of the hip and help release some of the tightness and adhesion in the IT band fascia. Check out foam rolling exercises as well.
Lay on your side and roll along the outside of the leg. It is super intense doing this, so be aware!
Useful Items For IT band stretches:
Have you experienced outer hip or knee pain? What exercises helped you?
Fresh Fitness: Use these IT band stretches for preventing and relieving hip and knee pain.