The majority of the injuries that occur for runners or other athletes involved in non-contact sports are directly related to flexibility and strength — or, rather, lack thereof. Unfortunately, none are actually avoidable by rolling the side of your leg up and down a foam roller after your workout. As a general rule, men’s hamstrings, in particular, tend to be less flexible than women; for instance, many men can only comfortably make a 70 to 80-degree angle, while women are more likely to be able to go 80 to 90 degrees.
When it comes to the ITB, or iliotibial band, many gym-goers attempt to alleviate the pain they (falsely) associate with muscles by rolling the sides of their legs with a foam roller after completing their workout. Evidently, these people think they’re doing something positive for their bodies by incorporating this painful activity into their workout regime. To understand why this kind of treatment is not truly helpful, we need to understand the makeup of the ITB.
The ITB is comprised of strong connective tissue running from the pelvis down the side of the leg, and ending just below the knee. Strung like a cobweb along the upper leg, this dense band of tissue connects to the gluteus maximus (in back) as well as the tensor fascia lata (in front); those connections contribute to the ITB’s sometimes becoming painfully tight, at times, particularly after or in the midst of a strenuous workout. As the gluteus maximums and tensor fascia lata battle for control of the ITB, the weaker muscle of the two tends to lose out. For those of us who have desk jobs and spend a lot of time sitting, a weak gluteus maximus often results; this allows the dominant tensor fascia lata to pull the ITB out of place, if ever-so-slightly, causing pain along the side of the hip or knee as the ITB rubs against bones it normally does not contact.
While some people think rolling out the ITB lessens pains associated with the tightness they experience, the connective tissue doesn’t actually stretch in the same way that muscles do. While temporary relief may result from this oft-used rolling technique, it will not truly relieve the issue causing the pain. Instead, a better solution for ITB pain is to stretch and strengthen — and perhaps foam roll — the muscles adjacent to that tissue. For most, strengthening the gluteus maximus will be the best way to prevent future ITB pain.
If, however, you’re not rolling your ITB on a foam roller for true relief, but out of habit, superstition, or the desire to fit in, by all means, don’t let us stop you! We all have our hobbies. Just be sure to go easy on yourself — and you may want to make sure to buy some colorful athletic tape to round out the deal.
PhysioDC of Washington, D.C.
Daniel Baumstark and his professional team of physical therapists operate a boutique physical therapy office in downtown Washington, D.C. From athletes to government officials, and from ballerinas to corporate executives, PhysioDC helps people recover, strengthen and return to healthy living. Visit their website at www.PhysioDC.com or call them at 202-223-8500.
Image credit: Bottom by Amir Kaljikovic / Fotolia