Iliotibial Band and Tensor Fasciae Latae: Learn Your Muscles

iliotibial band
Thanks to Duke University for the image.

To start, I want to be clear. Unlike other articles where I talk about several muscles, in this article, I’m talking about a tendon and a muscle, the iliotibial band and the tensor fasciae latae respectively. Muscles are the movers in your body, bringing one bone toward another. Tendons connect muscles to bone.

What makes the iliotibial band so important is that it runs along the outside of your leg, stabilizing your knee joint. This one tendon balances force from 3 adductors (plus the pectineus and gracilis), 4 quadriceps, and 3 hamstrings. That’s a lot of force for a tendon to handle!

In addition to its lofty work load, the iliotibial band borders the lateral quadriceps and attaches to the gluteus maximus and gluteus medius. I find this particularly interesting because, if you sustain an injury to your iliotibial band, where will your body form adhesions? What muscle will your body turn to to do the work of the IT band? Depending on where your body decides to recruit help, you could have some really interesting dysfunction.

Location

The iliotibial band originates on the ilium, just behind the origin of the tensor fasciae latae. It inserts on the upper, lateral side of the tibia just past the knee joint.

The tensor fasciae latae originates on the outer edge of the iliac crest, toward the front. Unlike many other muscles, the TFL does not insert on a bone. Instead, its insertion joins the iliotibial tract just below the hip.

Function

The iliotibial band attaches to the tensor fasciae latae, gluteus maximus, and gluteus medius. It is because of its relationship with the tensor fasciae latae that the ITB is known as the lateral stabilizer for the knee, balancing against the adductor group (which contains 5 muscles), quadriceps (which contain 4 muscles), and hamstrings (which contain 3 muscles).

The tensor fasciae latae flexes, abducts, and medially rotates the hip joint. This means that this muscle helps lift your leg in front of you, bring your leg away from the midline of your body, and turn your femur toward your midline. Plus, because of its relationship with the iliotibial band, it is a stabilizing muscle for the knee joint.

Common Dysfunction

If your iliotibial band is too tight, it can result in knee pain. However, if the tendon becomes too loose, it can cause instability in the knee joint. For active people especially, finding a balance for the iliotibial band can be quite a trick.

When the tensor fasciae latae is not firing correctly, it can lead to pelvic imbalances and cause pain in the hips, low back, and knee joint.

Restoring or Maintaining Health

The trick is finding balance in the iliotibial band. You want to have it taut enough to stabilize, but supple enough that it doesn’t cause knee pain. Some people believe that using a foam roller to loosen the IT band is a good idea; others are adamantly against it. Personally, I have used a foam roller on my tight IT band, and I find that it helps me.

Of course, I also use the foam roller on my tensor fasciae latae. I’m not sure if rolling the muscle first has anything to do with the relief that I feel. However, I tend to start with the foam roller on the TFL and, as I finish rolling that muscle, I rotate so I’m fully on my side to get the rest of my IT band.

You can also stretch your tensor fasciae latae by bringing your leg past the midline. This can be done seated, standing, or supine. All that matters is that the leg passes the midline of your body. Personally, I feel greater stretch in my TFL when I use the foam roller.

More Information

David Keil has a wonderful yoga anatomy book that I enjoy. That book is called Functional Anatomy of Yoga. Here is a link to buy it on Amazon. When you buy this book through this link, I earn a small commission.

Another book that I find helpful is The Concise Book of Muscles by Chris Jarmey. I used lots of information from his book while writing this post. The link I have provided is to an updated version of the book I have. It appears to be a very thorough update, although I have not personally looked through the whole book.

How do you take care of your ITB and TFL? Let us know in the comments below.

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Sarah Stockett is STOTT certified in Matwork, Reformer, Cadillac, Chair, & Barrels, Injuries & Special Populations, and CORE; a Yoga Alliance RYT-200; and has studied Active Isolated Stretching. When she is not trying to discover the best exercises to get rid of pain, she likes watching movies and travelling with her family.

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