The iliotibial band (IT Band) is a layer of connective tissue that runs from the iliac crest on the outside of the pelvis to the lateral side of the knee. It links the gluteus maximus (the largest butt muscle) to the tibia (shin bone). The IT Band plays a major role in stabilizing the knee during running. When the IT Band is tight, which often happens in runners, it can cause iliotibial band syndrome. This condition occurs when the tissue becomes inflamed from excessive friction caused by the band rubbing over the lateral epicondyle of the femur. The tightness may cause pain in the outer knee or pain along part or the entire length of the band.
IT Band Syndrome was, and to some extent still is, my nemesis. It S-U-C-K-S. So, as cheesy as it sounds, I can attest to the fact that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. I recommend that all runners work on IT Band flexibility whether or not they are experiencing pain in this region.
My friend, Jess, who had been running a mile here and another there, recently upped her training to 3-5 miles at a time and completed the Ben Franklin Bridge 6-mile run last month. She also expressed that her IT Bands were feeling tight!
She helped me take pictures of a great IT Band opener. You will need a belt or a yoga strap. Lie on your back. Loop the strap around the arch of your left foot and extend that leg at the knee. Allow as much strap as you need to keep your shoulder blades grounded and the knee straight but not locked out.
Take both pieces of the strap into your right hand and bring your left hand out to the side with the palm facing down. Draw your left leg across your body to the right, allowing the back of the pelvis to come off of the floor. (The body is drawn into a twist.) Keeping the back of the left shoulder on the ground, draw the left foot as far to floor as possible, knowing that it may very well not touch the ground.
Breathe into the outer left leg and hip.
Work to create space between the left armpit and the left outer hip. As this happens, pull the foot up towards the head while still extending the knee fully.