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Why Runners Shouldn't Be Foam Rolling Their IT Band

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Honestly, I have no idea what I'm doing with a foam roller. Whenever I break one out, I mostly just roll over whatever feels tight or achy, and I figure it something hurts, I'm probably in the right spot. So it was really only a matter of time until someone with more knowledge pointed out that not only was I not helping myself, but in all likelihood probably hurting myself with one of my go-to foam rolling techniques: rolling directly over my iliotibial (IT) band.

The IT band is a ligament that stretches from your pelvis and runs along the outside of your thigh all the way down to your shin. It's not uncommon for it to become inflamed or irritated due to overuse injuries, which can happen when you're running, cycling, or doing other types of exercise. And because it covers so much area in your body, injuries in the IT band can affect your hips, your knee, your shin, even your foot. When it's affected, it's common for people to think, as I did, that foam-rolling it (like you would do with a tight muscle) will help loosen any kinks and ease the pain.

I got my first clue that this was a no-no when I literally overheard someone in a gym locker room say that you're not supposed to do it. Later, when I asked Adrian Williams, the training and recovery program manager at Tone House, if what I'd heard was true, he said, "Very true!" Rats. So why not? "Your IT band is supposed to be rigid," he patiently explained. "It's the stabilizer for your knees' lateral movement. Making it 'loose' would be dangerous in any athletic environment, or everyday life." (5 Reasons You Should Try Fascial Stretching)

That doesn't mean you need to just suffer through IT band-created pain, though. "A large majority of the time, IT pain is from the surrounding muscles being tight—your piriformis, glutes, TFL [that's the tensor fasciae latae, a small muscle that sits right in front of the hip joint], hamstring, or quads. Start by rolling these areas, and see if that helps." (If not, try some of these IT-soothing yoga poses.)

Anything else? "Slow down when you foam roll!" says Williams. "Breaking the fascia requires you to slowly move over the tissue. Focus on your breathing, and take your time. Relaxing is the only way you're going to be able to get deep enough in the tissue to break it down and increase blood flow." Perfect time to practice that belly breathing technique.

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