It can be hard to stretch the TFL (tensor fasciae latae) and IT (iliotibial) band with conventional stretches but yoga, fortunately, is eminently qualified for the job!
In yoga, we have a number of poses that stretch the outsides of the hips and thighs, and we work with breath and focus to deepen the release. In this article, I’ll outline a short progression of IT band and TFL stretches that you can practice right away.
WHAT IS THE TFL?
- The TFL or tensor fasciae latae is a small muscle on the outside of the hip. It originates at the anterior iliac crest and is continuous with the IT or iliotibial band.
- The TFL medially rotates and abducts the femur at the hip joint and helps to stabilise the pelvis and knees.
WHAT IS THE IT BAND?
- The IT band is a thick sheath of connective tissue that runs along the outside of the thigh from the hip to just below the knee. At the hip, it originates at the gluteus maximus and tensor fasciae latae. And at the knee, it attaches to the top of the shinbone.
- The IT band acts like a spring when you walk, run and jump, storing and releasing elastic energy. It also helps to stabilise the hips and knees.
WHY MIGHT YOU NEED IT BAND AND TFL STRETCHES?
These are the two primary reasons that you could be looking for some new IT band and TFL stretches:
- OVERUSE WITHOUT RELEASE. As key players in the stabilisation of the hips and the knees, the TFL and IT band are contracting and relaxing constantly when you walk, run and ride a bike. Over time, this can lead to tightness, especially if your knee or hip are out of alignment.
- COMPENSATION RESULTING FROM MUSCULAR IMBALANCES. Tight muscles in the surrounding area can pull the IT band out of alignment, causing tension in the TFL and in the IT band itself. The primary culprits for this are the piriformis, psoas, quads, glutes (often both weak and tight) and calves.
WHAT ARE THE CONSEQUENCES OF A TIGHT TFL AND IT BAND?
A tight TFL and IT band is associated with conditions ranging from:
- Iliotibial band syndrome—inflammation of the outer knee caused by irritation of the IT band.
- Tendonitis in the knee and/or Achilles tendon.
- Patellofemoral syndrome, or cyclist’s knee.
- Pain behind the knee, in the calf, hip or thigh.
WHY IS IT SO DIFFICULT TO STRETCH THE IT BAND?
As the IT band is not a muscle—it’s denser and less elastic, more like a tendon—it is not as receptive to stretching. We can, however, stretch the muscles that it connect to, which will help to relieve some of the pressure and bring it back into a more healthy alignment.
A great style of yoga for this issue is yin yoga, in which we typically hold poses for 10 breaths or more. This allows you to get a more intense stretch than you would with shorter holds. It is also deeply relaxing, which can help to reduce overall muscle tension.
Despite it’s pace, yin yoga is not a mild practice and can pack quite a punch—so please be careful. You need to be particularly tuned into the difference between sensations of discomfort and those of pain. No pain no gain does not fly in yoga!
If you do have a more serious IT band or TFL issue, please get the all clear from your doctor or physical therapist before you perform this sequence.
A 6-Pose Sequence To Release The IT Band and TFL
The best time to practise a sequence like this is after exercise or a long hard day at the office. So find a quiet place, roll out your mat and put your phone on airplane.
5-10 breaths in each pose can feel painfully long but the more time you can spend in the stretches, the deeper the release. If you find it difficult to stay focused, try counting your breaths in your head and tuning in deeply to the sensations of release.
1. Wind-Relieving Pose (5-10 breaths on each side)
Lie down on your back for Wind-Relieving pose—a gentle hip opener and glute stretch. Straighten your right leg to the mat and hug your left knee into your chest.
Slow down your breathing and completely relax into the pose for 5-10 breaths on each side. Then hug your knees into your chest.
Next, we’ll come into Happy Baby—a gentle groin, glutes and hamstring stretch. Keep your feet together, open your knees and stretch your hands through to take hold of the outsides of your feet. Bring your feet out over your knees and gently pull them down towards you.
If you can’t reach your feet, you can hold onto your ankles or shins. Flex your feet and relax into the pose for 5-10 breaths—rocking gently from side to side. Release the pose and hug your knees into your chest.
3. Dead Pigeon (5-10 breaths on each side)
Next, we’ll come into Dead Pigeon—a deeper glute and piriformis stretch. Cross your left ankle over your right knee, thread your left hand through the triangle between your legs and hold the back of your right thigh with both hands.
Gently pull your right leg in towards you and hold the pose for 5-10 breaths on each side. Release the pose and bring both feet back to the mat.
4. Reclining Knee-Down Twist (5-10 breaths on each side)
This Reclining Spinal Twist variation is one of the best IT band and TFL stretches. Straighten your left leg up to the sky and press through your heel. Cross your left ankle over your right knee and flex your left foot. Drop the inside of your right ankle to the mat and gently lower your right knee down with the left foot still in place.
Look to the right and hold the pose still for 5-10 breaths—twisting from the base of your spine. Come back to centre and switch sides. Then hug your knees into your chest.
5. Seated Half Spinal Twist (3-5 breaths on each side)
Rock and roll your way up to Seated Half Spinal Twist to increase the stretch in the outside of your hips. Bring both legs out in front of you. Cross your right foot to the outside of your left thigh and place your right fingertips on the mat behind you. Inhale, sit up tall. Exhale, bring your left elbow out side your right thigh and twist to the right.
Hold the pose for 3-5 breaths on each side. Then come forward onto all fours.
6. Low Lunge with Sidebend (3-5 breaths on each side)
Step your left foot in between your hands, slide your right knee back and release your back foot for Low Lunge Sidebend—a deep hip flexor and TFL stretch. Bring your left fingertips to the mat and sweep your right arm up and over. Draw your ribs in to protect from excessively curving your lower back.
Hold the pose for 3-5 breaths on each side. Now you can move back into your day!
Please share any exercises, tips, tricks or IT band and TFL stretches that you have found helpful in the COMMENTS below. And if you’re looking for more yoga content designed specifically for athletes, sign up for your Free 14-Day Trial today!