Your IT BAND Isn't Tight
Foam rollers have become a staple exercise recovery item, just as much as a floor mat. Foam rollers are a simple way to self-massage all sorts of muscles and a lot cheaper than a vibrating massage gun, but strangely the rise of the foam roller is almost synonymous with “IT Band Tightness”. Unfortunately, we may have spent a decade on the floor rolling out IT Bands for nothing. Before foam rollers, real IT Band dysfunction was an outlier case, but in the era of foam rollers IT Band tightness has been attributed to a myriad of dysfunctions ranging from hip pain, hip mobility, knee pain, and gait issues. The IT Band (short for iliotibial tendon) is a large tendon or fascia tissue that runs generally from the outside of the hip to the outside of the knee. Runners especially have been encouraged (or even pressured?) to foam roll their IT Bands before and after every run. But sadly, the IT Band is not a ball of cookie dough. What does foam rolling the IT Band really do to the IT Band?
The IT Band Is Like Rubber: If the Achilles Tendon is like a rubber band around asparagus, the IT Band is like a car tire. The problem with over foam rolling for a dysfunction that doesn’t exist is that it will act like a rubber band. Under repeated pressure, it can harden and become tougher to withstand the pressure better; which makes it more resistant to releasing or elongating. This rubber doesn’t have blood vessels, tissue, or even contain lactic acid so there’s nothing to “roll out”. This means it also doesn’t easily “bounce back” or repair itself after meeting intense pressure. Muscles Get Tight, Tendons Shorten: This can be more confusing that it sounds. Often “tight muscles” are attributed to contraction without stretching, causing a limited range of motion. Tendons can shorten, also causing a limited range of motion. But tendons don’t contract and release the way muscles do. Your quads might be tight, but your IT Band isn’t shortened after a run because it didn’t contract. The idea of massaging one big tendon the way you would tight muscles is apples to oranges. Should We Throw Out Foam Rollers? Foam rollers are great to use for muscle knots and tightness. But it’s almost as if the frequency of “IT Band tightness” in the past decade correlates directly with the popularity of… foam rollers. So roll those quads, hamstrings, put a tennis ball on the piriformis, but we can relax on rolling IT Bands.