Stop Foam Rolling Your IT Band To Relieve Knee Pain

by Taru Fisher on August 16, 2016

Picture of hands holding knee

Painful Knee

The foam roller has become a ubiquitous tool for stretching and relieving pain caused by trigger points (those tender, knotty areas in a muscle that “squeal” if you roll over them with a foam roller).

Your IT band is a thick set of fibers that runs along the outside of your leg – from your hip to just below your knee.

Many people have added foam rolling their IT bands to their stretching/rolling routine because they read about it, have seen other people do it, were taught the technique by a personal trainer or are suffering from something call IT band syndrome and have heard that rolling the IT band will make the pain go away.

What does the IT band do?

Designed to give your hip and knee stability, the IT band allows your hip muscles to help with your thigh movement and knee extension. Made of collagen fibers (a protein), it is one of the strongest structures in the human body.

No amount of foam rolling is going to loosen/lengthen/release the connective tissue and besides that you don’t want it to be loose or lengthened. It provides you with controlled movement of the knee joint for walking and running. For all the jobs it is performing it needs to be very, very tough.

So, what should you roll? Or in the case of IT band syndrome, should you roll at all?

If you like to roll, roll your quadriceps (front of your thighs), your adductors (your inner thighs), your hamstrings (back of your thighs) and your TFL (tensor fasciae latae, a front hip muscle ).

Releasing a tight TFL can help with knee and hip pain. Having more flexibility in your legs makes general movement easier. If your legs are very tight they could be causing referred pain in your knees and lower back.

IT band syndrome

If the outside of your knee hurts when you run or cycle you need to find a body-movement worker (physical therapist, personal trainer, athletic therapist, osteopath, massage therapist, chiropractor) who can do functional muscle testing and determine what is actually happening with your leg muscles.

Very often the gluteus medius (part of your butt muscles that starts behind you at the top of your butt and flares around to the sides of your hips) is weak forcing the TFL to do gluteus medius work. Sometimes all the glute muscles are weak.

Sometimes it is the illiacus (another hip flexing/rotating muscle) that is too tight. All of this can be determined by a skilled practitioner. Then the proper strengthening or stretching exercises can be prescribed.

The two most important things to remember

  1. Foam rolling will not relieve the pain in your knee caused by IT band syndrome.
  2. Muscular and joint pain is often the result of the misuse of muscles or joints. In order to treat the pain you must understand why the pain is happening. When you understand the underlying cause then you can properly treat the cause and eliminate the pain. Enlisting the help of a specialist in functional movement can make a dramatic difference in reducing or eliminating pain.

So stop rolling your IT band. It is a painful process and unneccessary. Trying to stretch the IT band does not relieve pain. In the case of IT band syndrome, the rolling could be inflaming the tissue even more.


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Photo attribution: Image courtesy of jk1991 at

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