WHAT IS THE TFL?
- The TFL (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 (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.
HOW DO THE IT BAND AND TFL GET TIGHT?
These are the two primary reasons that we need 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 working 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 IT band itself. The primary culprits are the piriformis, psoas, quads, glutes (often both weak and tight) and calves.
WHAT ARE THE CONSEQUENCES OF A TIGHT IT BAND AND TFL?
A tight 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 IT’S 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 connects 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 3 minutes 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 doesn’t fly in yoga. If you do have a more serious IT band issue, please get the all clear from your doctor or physical therapist before you perform this sequence.
1-HOUR YIN YOGA SEQUENCE OF IT BAND AND TFL STRETCHES
Find a quiet place, put your phone on airplane and commit to an hour of serious relaxation. You may find a block, strap and some cushions make your session more comfortable and effective.
1. EASY SEAT (2 minutes)
Begin sitting cross-legged seat with your hands resting in your lap and your eyes closed. If your hips are tight, I recommend that you sit on the edge of a cushion, pillow or block to raise your hips up at least to the level of your knees.
Seal your lips and take a few deep breaths in and out through your nose. Allow your belly and chest to expand on the inhalation and contract on the exhalation. Try to keep your mind focused on the movement of your chest and ribcage for the full 2 minutes.
2. WIND-RELIEVING POSE (3 minutes on each side)
Come down onto your back for Wind-Relieving pose—a gentle hip opener and glute stretch. Bring your right leg flat to the mat and hug your left knee into your chest. Slow down your breath and completely relax in the pose for 3 minutes on each side. Then bring both feet flat to the mat.
3. DEAD PIGEON (3 minutes 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 3 minutes on each side.
4. HAPPY BABY (3 minutes)
Release the pose for Happy Baby—a gentle groin 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 2 minutes—rocking gently from side to side. Release the pose and hug your knees into your chest.
5. RECLINING HAND-TO-BIG-TOE (4 minutes on each side)
Reclining Hand-To-Big-Toe is a deep hamstring stretch. If you have tight hamstrings, you’ll get more leverage if you use a strap or belt. Loop the strap around the ball of your raised foot and press through your heel to straighten your leg up to the sky.
You can bend your bottom leg and bring your foot flat to the mat if this helps you to keep your hips level. Hold the pose for 4 minutes on each side. Then bring both feet flat to the mat.
6. KNEE-DOWN TWIST (3 minutes 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 stay here for 3 minutes—twisting from the base of your spine. Come back to centre and switch sides. Then hug your knees into your chest.
Rock and roll your way up to seated Half Spinal Twist. 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.
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. Then come back to all fours.
Step your left foot in between your hands again, slide your right knee back and release your back foot in Lizard pose—a deep hip flexor stretch. Bring your left hand inside your front foot and walk your front foot out to the edge of your mat. You can stay up on your hands or drop down onto your forearms and interlace your fingers. Hold the pose for 3-5 breaths.
Release the pose, walk your left foot back in and switch sides. Then come back up to all fours.
10. PIGEON (5 minutes on each side)
Pigeon is one of the deepest glute and piriformis stretches—bring your right knee forward and place it behind your right wrist. Position your right foot under your left hip. Release your back foot and slide it back. If your hips are not level, you can support your right hip on a cushion. Inhale, press into your palms to lengthen your spine. Exhale, fold forward, cross your arms and rest your forehead on the mat.
Rest in the pose for 5 minutes—feeling the stretch in your right outer hips and glute. Come back up to all fours and switch sides.
12. FINAL RESTING POSE (5 minutes)
Lie down on your back in Final Resting pose for 5 minutes of integration and meditation. Let your feet come as wide as the mat and fall open. Relax your arms, palms facing up, shoulder blades rest evenly on the mat. Close your eyes.
Let all the muscles in your body soften and relax. Bring your attention to the gentle rising and falling of your breath. To the effortless expansion and contraction of your belly and ribcage. Try to keep your focus on the sensations of your breath in your body as you allow the effects of the sequence to sink in.
5 VIDEOS THAT INCLUDE IT BAND AND TFL STRETCHES
Please share any exercises, tips or tricks you have found helpful for releasing tension in the IT band and TFL in the Comments below.
Cover photo: Fiona Peters