No More Painful Foam Rolling for the Iliotibial Band (IT Band)

By Kevin Cronin, Owner, PT

For years many of us, myself included, have spent countless hours lying on our sides on a foam roll “rolling out” our iliotibial bands (ITB).

Usually it is helpful, but can be painful as well. After rolling out the ITB, it seems to be looser and less sensitive to touch (at least for a while), but the tightness and sensitivity to touch comes back.
So we do it again, and again, and again. What is the definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

ITBRolling out does help increase blood flow to the ITB (temporarily), but why does the tightness keep coming back? Is there anything that can be done to reduce the tightness permanently? Is there a better way? The answer to the first question may very well hold the key to answering yes to the second and third questions – and likely that answer lies in the fascial tissue underneath the ITB.

Recent research (2003-2007) has shown that when fascia has been strained or stressed, the smooth muscle cells within it contract.  This contraction creates a cascading effect by stimulating the nerve endings within the fascia, which in turn trigger the production of inflammatory chemicals. This is a significant source of inflammation and pain in the body. These discoveries about the role that fascia plays in nearly all painful conditions has been called one of the most significant medical discoveries of this century.

One research study has demonstrated that when tight and inflamed fascia is shortened and held in a shortened position, the fascia relaxes and the nerve endings stop signaling the production of inflammatory chemicals. In essence, shortening the fascia “resets” the neural mechanism that is keeping the fascia tightened and inflamed. One very bright physical therapist, Brian Tuckey PT, OCS, JSCCI, has used this discovery to develop an evaluation and treatment technique called Fascial Counterstrain, which identifies which specific fascial structure in the body is involved in contributing to a painful condition, and how to shorten that fascial structure in order to reset the tissue, thereby reducing inflammation and spasm.

The identification of fascial spasm using Fascial Counterstrain is done by feeling for tight and tender areas called tender points. Mr. Tuckey has mapped out nearly 700 tender points throughout the body, identifying which specific fascial structure is associated with each point and has also developed a technique (specific to each point), to shorten that particular fascial tissue and fix the problem.

Finding and treating the tender points on an inflamed ITB is easy. If the ITB is tight and tender, sit down, place the opposite hand on the leg (left hand on inside of right thigh) and the other hand on top of it. Push the whole quad mass out and slightly up, to shorten the tissue on the outside of the thigh and hold for 30 seconds. Repeat this at 3-4 spots up and down the thigh, so that the entire outside of the thigh has been treated. Then check to see if the ITB is less sensitive. Repeat on the other leg if needed. You may have to apply this treatment every day for one week before you start feeling lasting results, and less tenderness and tightness in the ITB.

If you have trouble getting the results you desire, consult a Fascial Counterstrain practitioner and ask them to help you refine your technique. It is also possible that you are not getting the results you are looking for because other nearby fascial tender points need to be reset as well. The consultation is free, and the time (and pain) you save by not having to foam roll is well worth it.

To find a Fascial Counterstrain practitioner near you, please visit our Contact Us page. 

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