The One Thing Fitness Pros Wish You’d Stop Doing With Your Foam Roller

Photo: Getty Images/Tommasolizzul
By now, anyone focused on recovery has become BFFs with tools like foam rollers and massage balls in an effort to break down knots in sore muscles. But, if the area in need of a little TLC happens to be your IT band, slow your roll say fitness pros.

"The sensation of deep touch doesn’t elicit any response in the tissue of the IT band," says Davey Fisher, a master trainer at The Ranch Malibu.

To understand why, it's important to first know that, though it's muscle-adjacent, the iliotibial band (AKA IT band) is not a muscle itself and therefore doesn't respond like one to stimuli such as foam rolling. "[It's] essentially a dense strip of connective tissue, fascia, and nerve fibers that run parallel to the side of the leg on the lateral portion of the thigh," explains Fisher. (Basically, if you were to stand with your hands at your sides, you'd be overlapping your IT bands.) Their main job is to act as anchors and muscle attachment sites for many of the major thigh muscles.

If the area in need of a little TLC happens to be your IT band, slow your roll.

Taking your roller to this area if it's sore isn't just a pointless exercise, confirms physical therapist Michael Conlon, owner of Finish Line PT in New York City. "It's [also] very painful." And unlike, say mouthwash, in this case, the burn definitely doesn't mean it's working. "Some research states the added compression of rolling may actually exacerbate your symptoms," adds Conlon. (Fisher shares similar concerns.)

You can, however, use your foam roller to treat IT band discomfort indirectly. Instead of placing the roller on one of yours, advises Fisher, use it to roll the length of the lateral portion of your quad (outer front of your leg from hip to knee, but not the side), medial hamstring (middle back of your thighs), and glute-medius (top portion of your butt that covers your pelvis).

"Rolling and therefore loosening these areas will effectively reduce tension put on the IT band that can cause pain, discomfort, tingling, and tightness," he says. "Also you might consider going easy on the distance running, especially on concrete, as this can exacerbate IT band flare-ups." To be on the safe side, he adds, you can always book a session with a trusted physical therapist to treat the tissue issue and get your roll on somewhere else.

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