Sunday, March 7, 2021

No Need To Stretch Or Foam Roll Your ITB?

You are a runner and you haven't been able to run more than 2 km before a sharp pain in your outer knee reduces your run to a hobble. Resting, icing and changing your running shoes made no difference. The sports doctor you saw just diagnosed you with the dreaded Iliotibial Band Syndrome (ITBS). He tells you that you need to stretch your Iliotibial band (ITB) and use a foam roller.

Sounds familiar? Well, this latest published paper on the ITB by Paul Giesler (2020) challenges common treatment approaches of stretching and massaging the ITB. Basically, he says that you do not want to stretch or foam roll your ITB.

I've written about the ITB before in a few different posts. Except for Daniel Liberman and Carolyn Eng's study, most other articles seem to suggest that the ITB causes pain via a 'friction syndrome'. This is thought to be due to the ITB rubbing to and fro over Gerdy's tubercle on the outer shin bone while running due to hip weakness. 

Treatment is normally targeted at stretching the ITB (to reduce friction). Doctors will often suggest a steroid injection to reduce 'inflammation' (in the bursa) on the outer knee.  Giesler (2020) however,  suggested that ITB pathology is more likely to involve compression of sensitive structures beneath the ITB rather than friction.

also know as Iliotibial tract (ITT)

Since the ITB is a really broad, strong and complex structure with many attachments (picture above) along the hip, thigh and around the knee, it can provide stability for both the hip and knee. Like I wrote before, the ITB is actually thought to function like our Achilles tendon. To store and release energy like a spring. Therefore you cannot and would not want to stretch a spring. A coiled spring can release energy much better than a spring that is stretched out.

From Carolyn Eng's running simulation 

Hence the need to treat the cause of the problem rather than just treating the pain over the outer knee. Hip strength and control thus thought to be key in causing ITBS, especially weakness in hip increased hip adduction (dropping of the hip inwards) during loading. 

Runner on L has increased hip adduction

In runners/ patients with excessive hip adduction while running, progressive rehab and addressing potential causes should be adapted for individual runners, especially while running downhill and during longer runs. I've written on this topic specifically, you can read that article here.

So treatment should be to calm the symptoms (knee pain) and treat the cause. We don't get you to stretch your ITB or use the foam roller in our clinics, come see us if you want to run pain free.

The Paul Geisler (2020) article is free, click on the link under references if you want to read it.


Bramah C, Preece SJ Nimh G et al (2018). Is There A Pathological Gait Associated With Common Soft Tissue Running Injuries? AJSM. 46(12): 3023-3031. DOI: 10.1177/0363546518793657

Eng CM, Arnold AS, Liberman DE et al (2015). The Capacity Of The Human Iliotibal Band To Store Elastic Energy During Running. J Biomech. pii: S0021-9290 (15) 00354-1. DOI:10.1016/j.jbiomech.2015.06.017.

Geisler PR (2020). Iliotibial Band Pathology: Synthesizing The Available Evidence For Clinical Progress. J Ath Trg. DOI: 10.4085/JAT0548-19

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