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Knee pain? You’re not alone. One quarter of adults experience frequent knee pain, and iliotibial band (IT band) syndrome is a common cause of that, especially when it presents as achy soreness on the outside of the knee. While moving can offer relief for iliotibial band syndrome, it alone won’t fix the issue. That’s where stretching comes in.
What is iliotibial band syndrome?
The IT band is a thick band of fascia that runs from the top of the outer hip to just below the outer knee. However, iliotibial band syndrome actually stems from the surrounding muscles. Often, the hip muscles that attach to the IT band become tight, creating tension all along the band, which places more pressure on the attachment of the band at the knee and sometimes at the hip.
If unaddressed, the tight IT band can lose its ability to glide over the underlying muscles in the thigh, inhibiting knee movement. In this scenario, running or walking can create friction, causing the tissues to thicken and bind, which pulls on the knee and causes pain.
Symptoms of iliotibial band syndrome
The symptoms aren’t always present but tend to become more intense with exercise or after you’ve remained in the same position for hours.
- Outer knee pain or achiness that can extend behind the knee or along the outer calf
- Pain in the outer hip or thigh
- Swelling around the knee
- Snapping or popping sounds with knee movement
How yoga stretches can help iliotibial band syndrome
Gentle yoga postures can stretch your IT band and the surrounding muscles, reducing tension and encouraging fluid movement. By loosening those thick, fibrous IT bands, you minimize any rubbing against the femur and iliotibial bursa, which is what leads to discomfort.
Passive stretching, where you hold a posture for a minute or more in a way that’s relaxed, as in the poses that follow, allows muscles to lengthen. The result is more elastic, pliable tissues. Yin Yoga, which targets the connective tissue of the lower body through slow and sustained stretching of longer than a minute, can also bring short- and long-term relief.
Stretching the IT band through yoga not only brings physical change but encourages you to take inventory of your body as you practice. The more awareness you have of how your body feels from day to day or pose to pose, the more likely you are to notice tight or injury-prone areas of the body that need attention before full-blown injuries occur.
3 yoga poses for IT band syndrome
The following poses stretch the muscles of the hips and thighs that pull on the IT band, and keep the band and the surrounding tissues flexible and pliable to reduce friction and discomfort. Many injuries tend to be chronic, and these poses can also be done preventively if you have a history of injury in these particular areas. If your injury is acute, you’ll need to rest the area until the inflammation subsides, but if you can engage in stretching without discomfort, it may aid in your recovery. (As always, check with your health care practitioner before adding any new stretches or exercises to your regimen.)
It’s helpful to warm up with 5–10 minutes of some form of movement that doesn’t induce pain, whether a walk or Sun Salutation A.
How this pose helps iliotibial band syndrome: Stretches the hamstrings where they meet the IT band
How to: Come to standing and cross your left ankle in front of your right. With your knees slightly bent, fold forward and rest your hands on the floor, a block, or a chair. Reach your sitting bones toward the sky and move your ribs away from your pelvis to prevent your back from rounding. Stay here, breathing comfortably, for 1 minute, and then repeat, crossing your left ankle over right.
How this pose helps iliotibial band syndrome: Stretches the difficult-to-reach tensor fasciae latae at the top of the IT band.
How to: Come to a Low Lunge with your right leg forward. Lift your hips up and back until they are directly over or slightly in front of your knee on the ground. The tendency in this pose is to lean the pelvis forward and stretch the hip flexors, but in this variation, you want to keep your hips over your back knee (move your front foot back if you need to). Without over-arching the lower back, place your right hand or forearm on your right thigh and reach your left hand overhead and to the right. You should feel this in the outer hip of your left leg. Stay here, breathing comfortably, for 30 to 60 seconds, and then repeat on the other side.
How this pose helps iliotibial band syndrome: Stretches the gluteus maximus muscles, which attach to the IT band.
How to: Lie on your back and cross one knee over the other. Keeping your head and shoulders on the floor, hug your knees in toward your chest. If you feel a good stretch, stay here. If you don’t, flex your feet, grab your ankles, and pull them toward your hips. Hold for 1 minute, and then repeat with your legs crossed the other way.
Additional reporting by Kyle Houseworth