If you’ve got tensor fasciae latae pain, you probably also have hip or knee pain. Here’s how to relieve your pain and make your joints happy again.
It’s just nuts how quickly you can go from moving freely and without pain to hobbling around like some decrepit old man. (No offense to decrepit old men.)
Although this is true for anybody at any time, it seems to happen at double-time for anyone who messes up their tensor fasciae latae.
A healthy tensor fasciae latae balances the pull of 12 other leg muscles. But, when it’s not working correctly, you can quickly notice hip and/or knee pain.
Once this muscle is injured, you’re reduced to hobbling around until you can figure out what you need to do to fix it.
Lucky for you, I know just what to do. I’ve been helping clients relieve tensor fasciae latae pain for years.
Below you’ll find all the information you need to know about this hip-stabilizing muscle as well as the best ways to relieve its pain and build strength.
Where Is the Tensor Fasciae Latae?
The tensor fasciae latae originates on the top, outer edge of the iliac crest. This means it starts near where your pointer finger goes when you put your hands on your hips.
Unlike many other muscles, the TFL does not insert on a bone. Instead, it inserts on the iliotibial tract just below the hip.
Take a moment to take a look at that tiny slip of muscle. That muscle helps balance the pull from all your other leg muscles.
The Iliotibial Band: The Tensor Fasciae Latae’s Accomplice
If muscles can have an accomplice, a gal Friday, or a Bonnie to their Clyde; it’s often the tendons that help connect them to bone. In this case, the tensor fasciae latae’s helper is the iliotibial band.
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!
Think about this: If you injure your iliotibial band, where will your body form adhesions? What muscle will your body recruit to do the work of the IT band? Depending on where your body decides to recruit help, you could have some really interesting dysfunction that could impact your hip, knee, and/or all of your upper leg muscles.
What Does the Tensor Fasciae Latae Do?
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 thigh bone (femur) toward your midline.
Plus, because of its relationship with the iliotibial band, it is a stabilizing muscle for the knee joint.
So, What Does the Iliotibial Band Do?
Because of its relationship with the tensor fasciae latae, 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).
This means this tiny hip muscle and its tendon are responsible for balancing the force from all the other muscles in your leg!
What Happens When the Tensor Fasciae Latae Quits Working Correctly?
When the tensor fasciae latae is not working correctly, it doesn’t do its job to balance the other muscles in your leg. This can lead to hip, low back, and/or knee pain.
How Can the Iliotibial Band Cause Pain?
If your iliotibial band is too tight, the tendon’s pull can cause knee pain. On the flip side, if the tendon becomes too loose, it can cause instability in the knee joint.
For active people especially, finding that Goldilocks balance for the iliotibial band can be quite a trick.
How to Relieve Tensor Fasciae Latae Pain
Okay, before you hop into these exercises, there are a couple of things you need to know.
- If you are currently hurting or injured, give it time to heal before starting any sort of exercise.
- If you think you have torn your tensor fasciae latae or iliotibial band, please contact your doctor immediately. Your doctor can order all of the appropriate imaging, medication, or therapy necessary for your recovery.
- Tightness is the same thing as weakness. So, when you start trying to make this muscle group healthy again, you need to use a combination of exercises to strengthen and stretch the muscles.
The 3 Best Tensor Fasciae Latae Stretches
Whenever you bring your thigh toward your midline and/or internally rotate it, you’re going to create a stretch for your tensor fasciae latae and iliotibial band.
And, although you want this band to have some give, you don’t want to over-stretch it because an over-stretched tendon takes a very long time to heal.
So, make sure to move mindfully and use your best judgment when you practice the following three exercises.
1. Roll it
When you’re trying to roll the TFL and/or IT band, it’s best to have a foam roller. Sure, you can use a tennis ball or other massage ball, but because these are so much smaller than a foam roller, it can feel like your leg sort of swallows up your ball.
Also, I want to let you know that some people very strongly believe you shouldn’t ever use a foam roller to loosen your IT band. I’m not one of them, though.
Here’s how to roll your tensor fasciae latae:
- Start on your side with the roller at the top of your hip bone. Your bottom leg will be out straight so that you make a line from head to heel. Your top leg can be bent, with your foot resting on the floor, or you may keep the top leg straight and stacked on top of the bottom leg.
- Rotate forward slightly so that you can feel the roller press into the front/side of your hip.
- Use your top leg, your bottom arm, or a combination of both to roll from the top of the hip to the top of your thigh.
For those who want to keep going and roll the IT band:
- Roll completely onto your side. This area of the body can be particularly tender, so please use caution!
- Using your top leg, your bottom arm, or a combination of the two, roll from the top of your thigh down to either just above or just below the knee. There is some ambiguity about which is best, so pay attention to your body and follow your natural instinct.
- Make sure to breathe and roll off of any places that are too tender.
Related: Foam Rolling for Fascia Health
2. Hero Pose
Hero pose is one of my favorite yoga poses for balancing hip muscles. In this one pose, you’ll bring your thighs toward your midline and internally rotate them. These are both powerful ways to stretch the tensor fasciae latae.
- Bring your knees together and separate your feet so they are wider than your hips. The goal here is that you will be able to have such open hips that you could sit on the floor with your feet on either side of you.
- Lift your hands off the floor and cross your hands at the wrists. Grab your thighs to help rotate your legs toward the center of your body.
- Grab a block or something to sit on if you think you might need it. Rotate your pelvis so you feel your SITs bones (the bony parts that press into the ground when you sit) connect to the floor or your prop.
- Feel like you’re pressing the floor away through your bottom. As you do, notice how you seem to sit up nice and tall.
- Broaden your collarbones.
- Make sure your head is in line with your spine and that your chin is not sticking forward.
- I like to take my thumbs and massage my feet while I sit here. Try to hold for 8 long, slow breaths.
Related: Hero Pose: You Will Thank Me Later
3. Mountain Pose
Mountain pose is basically just standing up straight. However, since most of us don’t stand correctly, it still ends up being more of a challenge than we’d like to admit.
- Bring your heels in line with your SITs bones. This will make your feet about a fist’s distance apart. If you have SI joint issues (tailbone pain) or are pregnant, you can bring your feet wider.
- Lift your toes so that you feel the four corners of your feet (under the big toe, under the little toe, and the inside and outside of your heel) pressing down into the earth.
- Hug the muscles of your feet and ankles to the bone to build strength in a neutral position.
- Feel like you are pressing the ground away from you with your legs. You might feel your knee caps start to lift as your thigh muscles (quadriceps) engage.
- Make sure your pelvis is in neutral (not tucked). You should feel a neutral curve in your low back (lumbar spine).
- Feel your rib cage lift away from your pelvis, but make sure your rib cage is directly above your pelvis. This will also help you engage your abdominals.
- Relax your shoulders away from your ears as you broaden your collarbones.
- Slide your chin in slightly to make sure you are in optimal neutral alignment all the way through your body.
The 3 Best Tensor Fasciae Latae Strengthening Exercises
Honestly, we tend to do a lot of tensor fasciae latae strengthening on our own. Even standing with your feet too far apart while you brush your teeth can strengthen this muscle.
Still, it’s always nice to have options. Plus, if you’re serious about relieving your tensor fasciae latae pain, you need to ensure you’re practicing a combination a stretching and strengthening exercises.
Related: Want to learn even more stretches and strengthening exercises to help you permanently relieve your hip pain? Check out my online course, Spinal Rejuvenation.
1. Pilates One Leg Circles
This exercise is a little different from the others because it offers a strengthening and stretching opportunity. I do love a good multi-tasking exercise!
- Begin on your back with your spine in neutral and your knees bent. Your heels are in line with your SITs bones. (This means your feet should be about a fist’s distance apart.)
- Take a moment to ensure that your pelvis, rib cage, and head are in neutral alignment.
- Reach your arms by your sides and broaden your collarbones.
- Inhale through your nose as you lift your right leg toward the ceiling.
- Exhale through pursed lips as you fully extend your right leg. Try to keep your pelvis in neutral. (It’s okay if your leg doesn’t straighten all the way.)
- You may either keep your left leg bent or you may straighten it. Either way, make sure you still feel like the muscles in that leg are working.
- Inhale and bring your right leg past the midline of your body.
- As you exhale, your right leg circles down away from you, out to the side, and then toward your face. Please note that you’re drawing a circle on the ceiling. When the leg comes back to starting position, you’re not trying to return it straight to the ceiling. You’re using your thigh muscles (quadriceps) to bring the leg toward you. Circle this direction for 5-10 reps.
- Switch directions. Inhale and reach the working leg out to the side. Exhale and circle the leg down, past the midline, and toward your face. Circle this direction for 5-10 reps.
- Inhale to bend the knee. Exhale to set the foot on the floor in line with the SITs bones.
- Do the other side.
Related: Get Trim Thighs with One Leg Circle!
2. Prasarita Padottanasana
I know, that yoga pose is a mouthful. Loosely translated, it means standing wide-leg hand to foot pose.
If that still doesn’t ring any bells, just think about doing that center stretch you’d do in gym class standing up.
- Turn lengthwise on your mat and place your feet far apart from each other.
- Make sure that your feet are on the same line.
- Slightly pigeon toe, pointing your toes toward each other.
- Put a soft bend in the back of your knees. This is important and will help you do the pose correctly. Don’t skip this or mistakenly think that it doesn’t apply to you.
- Put your hands on your hips and feel your pelvis rotate to help you lower toward the ground.
- When your spine is parallel to the floor, place your hands on the floor beneath your shoulders. If you are pregnant or have blood pressure issues, stay here.
- To lower your head, continue to rotate your pelvis.
- As the inner thighs (adductors) soften, you may be able to wiggle your feet a little further apart. Be sure to keep a soft bend in the knees, and let the toes point slightly toward each other. As you wiggle your feet apart from each other, you will notice that the floor comes closer to your head.
- Resist the temptation to soften and try to collapse to the floor. Instead, think of reaching your pelvis up toward the ceiling as it rotates and lowers your torso toward the floor.
- Hold for at least 5 breaths.
- Inhale to lengthen.
- Exhale to soften.
- To come out, heel-toe your feet toward each other. Place your hands on your hips, and come to standing.
3. Squat Pose
When you want to strengthen the muscles to keep your hips healthy and pain-free squats are one of the best exercises to do. Here’s how to do a squat yoga-style.
- Stand with your heels outer hip-distance apart. Slightly turn out the toes.
- Lift your toes so you can feel the four corners of your feet press evenly into the floor. (The four corners are: under the big toe, under the little toe, and the inside and outside of the heel.) Hug the muscles of your feet and ankles to the bone to help you stay centered.
- Place your hands on your hips, and rotate your pelvis so you can feel your SITs bones point at the baseboard behind you.
- Bring your hands up to heart center.
- Use ujjayi breathing as you inhale and exhale through the nose.
- As you inhale, feel your spine lengthen and your low belly draw toward your spine for support.
- Exhale and let your SITs bones guide you back and down. As you begin to lower, imagine sitting into a chair.
- If you are able, lower so that your triceps (the backs of your arms) meet the adductors (inner thighs). Exert equal energy with your triceps pressing into your adductors and your adductors pressing into your triceps. This will help you stabilize your hips so you can lengthen your spine.
- As you move deeper into the pose, focus on lengthening the spine and reaching from your tailbone (which is now pointed on less of an angle, but still not pointing straight beneath you) through the top of your head.
- Feel your collarbones broaden and your shoulders slide down your back.
- Breathe here for 5-8 breaths.
- Ground down through your feet. Hug the muscles to the bone, and press up to standing.
Want to Learn More?
If you’re researching tensor fasciae latae pain today because you have some hip pain that you’re trying to get rid of, you’re in luck! I’ve created a course to teach you everything you need to know to permanently ditch hip and back pain. Click here to check out my Spinal Rejuvenation program.
Or, if you want a free taste of what you’ll learn in Spinal Rejuvenation, click here to download The Secret to IMMEDIATE + LASTING Pain Relief.
Kenhub.com is a leader in human anatomy-related information. To learn more about the tensor fasciae latae, check out their post. It also includes videos!
David Keil has a wonderful yoga anatomy book that I enjoy called Functional Anatomy of Yoga. This has some ideas to keep the TFL and other muscles healthy. Above is a link to buy it on Amazon. When you buy this book through this link, I earn a small commission.
The Concise Book of Muscles by Chris Jarmey is another helpful book for anyone interested in learning more about different muscles in the body. I used lots of information from his book while writing this post.
How do you take care of your ITB and TFL? Let us know in the comments below.