What is the IT band?
The IT band, ITB or Iliotibial band is the largest piece of connective tissue or fascia in the human body. It is a long strip-like structure made of fibers that runs alongside the outer thigh from the top of your hip/pelvis to the top of your shinbone.
Also known as Iliotibial tract, it’s not a separate part though; but a wide thickening of fascia lata- an elastic connective tissue that covers your entire upper leg and extends to the lower leg. So, the IT band is not something we’re born with; rather something that grows, evolves and thickens overtime based on our movement.
And for that reason alone, you may not always notice the existence of this fibrous structure in the first place. Not unless you’re into some heavy workout routine or have encountered some sort of tightness in the outer part of your thighs.
Ironically, this part of the leg has many key functions in our day-to-day movements though.
You need a healthy and functional ITB to be able to dance.
Functions of The Iliotibial Band
The foremost function of the ITB, also known as Maissiat’s band is to help flex, extend, abduct, and rotate your hips both laterally and medially.
In addition to that, it also helps stabilize your hips and knees during key movements such as crawling, standing, and walking. Yet the most important function of the iliotibial tract is to help you with more dynamic and explosive activities like running, jumping, cycling, dancing, and HIT (high-intensity training).
Speaking of which, the ITB is known to play a particularly larger role in running. As Harvard puts it, the elastic nature of iliotibial band allows it to store and recycle more energy during running than other activities such as walking. To be clear, as you start running, one part of the ITB stretches and stores elastic energy as your leg goes backward, and releases it when the leg swings forward, saving energy and improving speed.
We’ll get to the functioning of the iliotibial band as well. But in order to do so, we must first get familiar with its basic anatomy. Let’s check it out.
The iliotibial tract originates at the iliac crest of the ilium- the large broad bone that forms the uppermost part of the pelvis. From there on, it runs down along the outside part of the thigh, while being continuous with the gluteus maximus (largest hip muscle) and tensor fascia latae (muscle of the thigh).
Like I said, the iliotibial band is nothing but tendinous thickening of fascia lata- the deep fascia of the thigh muscles. Attached to the hips, it encloses the thigh muscles and forms the outer limit of the fascial section of the thighs. Eventually, the fascia lata blends into the lower leg while attaching to the tibia and fibula, or shinbone in easy terms.
And that brings us to the way the IT band functions.
The IT band is a tendinous stripe that runs along the outer side of the thigh.
How Does The Iliotibial Band Function?
The functioning of the IT band is closely associated with its anatomical parts. That is gluteus maximus, tensor fascia latae, and fascia lata to be specific.
Most normal movements such as walking or running involves the contraction of gluteus maximus and tensor fascia latae. As these muscles contract and stabilize the pelvis over the femur, they also generate brute force through the fascia lata that results in increased tension in the ITB. But due to the elastic nature of the IT band, it stores this tension in the form of elastic energy. This energy is then recycled by the iliotibial tract so as to improve the efficiency of walking as well as other rapid activities like running and jumping.
Now, while sufficient use of the iliotibial band is quite vital; too much of it or too little of it can make it tight, irritated, or inflamed. This tightness can further cause friction in your knee joint, resulting in excruciating pain and in some cases refer hip pain as well. One of the most common examples of this mishap is a lateral knee injury, also known as the ITBS (Iliotibial band syndrome).
Luckily, the solution to many of the issues related with iliotibial band is well, its proper usage.
How to Relieve Pain in the ITB?
The iliotibial tract can be maintained and strengthened with regular exercise especially stretching, therapeutic workout such as yoga, and physical therapy.
IT band pain can also be reduced with NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs).
In case it doesn’t work, there’s always the option of surgery which can be used as the last resort for unmanageable and severe conditions.
Here are some of the corrective exercises and yoga poses that you can try to counter most IT band issues:
- Wide-legged standing forward bend
- Hip bridge and lateral walk with resistance bands
- Deadlifts and reverse lunges
A freelance writer, a poet and an avid reader. He’s a passionate wordsmith who believes in writing content which is simple, beautiful and informative. He’s a practised communicator coached by British Academy.
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