The iliotibial band (IT band) is a thick band of connective tissue on the outside of the leg. It runs from the outside of the pelvis, over the hip to just below the knee. At the top of the band, by the pelvis, it attaches to two hip muscles the (gluteus maximus and tensor fascia latae). At the bottom, it crosses the knee joint to attach onto the tibia.
The IT band is an important stabilizer of the knee during running. However, it can also be a common source of pain in youth track and field athletes. The IT band is frequently involved in overuse injuries of the leg in runners. The repeated bending and straightening of the knee during running places stress on the IT band which can accumulate over time and result in an overuse injury. Additionally, weakness in the leg and core muscles can contribute to IT band dysfunction. At your child’s team practice, your child’s coach will take your him/her through exercises that will help them to develop strength, as well as flexibility. However, flexibility exercises are best done six to seven days per week. This is where parents can step in to encourage appropriate flexibility training outside of practice. Maintaining flexibility in this structure is an important proactive first step to avoid painful overuse injuries for youth track and field athletes.
As with all stretches, this activity should be completed after the youth athlete has warmed up as part of their flexibility training program. Stretches of the IT band should feel similar to other stretches in that the position is taken to the point of mild to moderate tension, but not pain. Pushing a stretch into a painful range can result in an injury.
To stretch the IT band, stand sideways an arm’s length from wall (as shown in the drawing on the left). Put one hand on the wall for balance. Step the leg you are stretching behind your other leg. Slowly lean your hips towards the wall until a stretch is felt along the outside of the hip. Repeat stretch on other leg. This stretch can also be completed without the was all depicted in the drawing on the right however younger athletes are usually more successful with their hand on a stable surface.