At some stage or another, many cyclists will experience the pain and inconvenience of a tight Iliotibial Band (commonly known as an ITB) or, worse, ITB Syndrome.
The ITB is a band of dense tissue (fascia) that originates at the top of the hip and runs along the outside of the thigh, ending outside the knee. Its main role is to extend (straighten) and flex (bend) the knee.
A typical symptom of ITB Syndrome is where pain is experienced on the outside of the knee. This happens when the ITB is tight or inflamed, usually as a result of overuse.
To prevent it becoming chronic, rehab protocol recommends rest. Yup, that means no cycling until the condition is resolved with proper management and treatment.
Don't panic yet. Let's talk about how to avoid ITB issues in the first place.
As a remedial massage practitioner, I'm interested in what soft tissue structures are involved in developing this problem, and how to reduce the likelihood of the problem becoming chronic.
The key muscles involved include the glute max (larger butt muscle), TFL (tensor fascia latae) at the top of the hip, quadriceps (particularly the Vastus Lateralis, the outermost quad muscle) and hamstrings.
The sneaky TFL -- one of my favourite muscles -- often flies under the radar in terms of ITB pain and tightness but can be one of the key culprits. If you've ever had a funny clicking or snapping-type sensation around your hip, that could be your TFL letting you know it's starting to tighten up.
Most cyclists plunge into tackling the ITB with foam rollers, massage balls, sticks and other forms of muscle-release torture to get some release.
Please: stop wasting your time!
The ITB is made of fascia. Fascia doesn't respond the same as muscles -- it's a totally different type of tissue. You can't just release or stretch it the same way you do with muscles.
Instead of mindlessly thrashing your ITBs and expecting a miracle, focus on attacking the muscles surrounding the ITB attachment sites: glutes, quads, hammys and TFL.
The TFL is a small area, so I prefer to use the trigger ball for getting stuck into it. Trigger balls are super manoeuvrable and specific, making them perfect to release the area.
As you work the ball into the TFL, you may find a spot that refers pain/discomfort or a tightening sensation along the ITB. Good news: you've found an Active Trigger Point!
Now you've got it, maintain that position until the sensation subsides. (Yes, it hurts. I know. But you're fixing it.)
The only caveat: keep breathing. On each exhalation, let your whole body go soft.
Holding your breath or tensing up (because it's painful) will only hinder, not help. If you can't breathe normally -- or you continue tensing up --, back off and start again, slowly.
Rather than squeeze in -- or, more likely, not bother with -- a stretching or rolling session before or after a ride, you'll get far better results with a dedicated weekly 45-55 minute prehab session.
This session should include stretching, rolling and even strengthening exercises. Schedule it into your ride program (your rest day would be a great time). More importantly, make sure to actually do it!
It's important to invest in your body's proper functioning. While you can't prevent all injuries, they needn't become chronic.
Just for the BMCR blog, here's an exclusive early release of my TFL video.
Want more videos like this? Check out my YouTube channel.
Hi! I'm Holly Hicks, the founder of Fluid Movement and Wellbeing and the Restore+Rebalance Stretch Program. For the past 20 years, I've treated thousands of people in clinical practice as an elite sports and remedial massage therapist, and taught hundreds of in-person stretch classes and workshops as a stretch therapy coach.
Classes, courses and private individual or group programs available, in person and online. Join me on Facebook, sign up for my free weekly newsletter (and even more videos!) and subscribe to Fluid Movement and Wellbeing's YouTube channel. You can also get in touch with me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org