IT Bands and the Endurance Athlete: A Massage Therapist’s Approach

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As a massage therapist who frequently treats endurance athletes, it’s rare that an intake form does not mention IT band issues. While many people know their IT bands are causing issues, either from self-diagnosis or from a medical professional, most are unsure what is actually causing the pain and discomfort.

The Illiotibial Tract

The IT band is short for the Iliotibial Tract. As the longest tendon in the body, the IT band connects several muscles from the hips and upper legs (gluteus maximus, tensor fasciae latae) to the head of the fibula. It starts out flat and wide, covering a significant portion of the lateral thigh, and condenses into a smaller area as it gets crosses the knee. This means the IT band is not only the longest tendon, but it crosses an essential weight-bearing joint through a wide range of motions.  Clients frequently say, “I have tight IT bands.” Although this statement may be true, the phrase encourages a micro-focused approach to remedy a multi-source problem. As a tendon, the IT band rarely becomes tight the same way its neighboring muscles do. Hip flexors become tight from extended periods of sitting and glutes become tight from activities such as running and cycling. The tight muscles then pull on the tendon, creating a painful IT band area.

Solutions for IT Band Associated Pain

Unfortunately, IT band related issues inevitably inconvenience the endurance athlete at some point in their career. To resolve and prevent pain, the IT band and its surrounding tissues need to be free from fascial restrictions and from tight neighboring muscles. Focus should be put on properly reducing tightness in the hip flexors, glutes, and surrounding muscles, and dissolving excess fascia buildup (the “particle board” feeling in your muscles).

Massage Therapy Relief

Whether preventing issues or treating pain, massage therapy is exceptionally effective at reducing muscular tightness and releasing buildup. Clients often report feeling immediate reduction in IT related discomfort after treatment. A massage therapist specializing in athletes will be familiar with the pains of the endurance athlete, and is an integral part of a return to pain-free sport.

Chris Swan is a Licensed Massage Therapist at Upper Echelon Fitness & Rehabilitation. Chris uses a blend of Deep Tissue, Swedish and Structural Integration techniques in massage sessions to help clients recover from injuries, repetitive use issues or just daily stress. To schedule massage, please contact us.

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