Low Back Pain + Your IT Band

Low Back Pain + Your IT Band

One of the most common reasons clients come to our studio is to find relief from lower back pain. We see this in clients who sit at desks all day, as well as clients who are very active either training for a race or maintaining a rigorous workout schedule. The origin of this pain often stems from the IT Band and the glutes. The IT Band, also known as the iliotibial band, runs lateral to the quads (the outside of the thigh). This band runs from the iliac crest, which is part of the pelvic-hip complex (as shown below) and around the outside of the knee. The knee is the most common place people think of when they hear the words “tight IT Band” – but the low back is just as common an area to be affected.

If you take a look at the study of movement, muscles work in conjunction in order to facilitate movement by pulling on the bone; everything within the body is somehow connected. Therefore, anything that is misaligned or tight may cause an improper movement pattern somewhere else in the body, altering proper function.

If there is tension in the IT Band or gluteus, they begin to pull on adjacent muscles within the complex of the hips, notably the Quadratus Lumborum (QL’s). The QL muscle is technically an abdominal muscle but it has tremendous impact on the lumbar region of your lower back.

The IT band provides stability at the hip during lateral movements. Other muscles that stabilize the hip includes the gluteus medius and the quadratus lumborum (QL). As the IT Band tightens due to injury or overuse, friction will cause a downwards pull of the gluteus medius and the QL, causing the upper body to laterally bend a few degrees to the right. Even a slight pull on the lumbar spine could potentially compress the nerves and lead to pain and even greater neuromuscular problems later in life.

How do we approach this in the studio? We begin with an assessment by performing various stretches on the client. First, we test the hip flexors and the muscles of the quads to determine whether these muscles contribute to the lower back pain. From this point on, we turn to the IT Band and test its range of motion. Often times the IT Band contributes to tightness in the gluteus medius. Tightness in this muscle creates tension within the rest of the gluteus muscles. After stretching the gluteus muscles, we make sure to check in with the client to see how they are feeling after the series of stretches. The last piece within this series is to target the Quadratus Lumborum. Since the QL has several attachments into the spine, we make sure to perform a light and smooth stretch in order to allow the client to relax on the table and prevent the nervous system from protecting the muscle. Once the nervous system has relaxed, we see incredible results from the stretch,relieving a great amount of tension within our client’s lower back. We then re-asses by testing the range of motion of the IT Band and see how the client feels when they get off the table. As they start walking around the studio, they experience notable relief in their lower back and improvement in their gait.

Lower back pain affects so many people – yet every body is different. Treating the whole body is key to finding the source of the pain and finding the path to relief and recovery.

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Is IT Band Syndrome Limiting Your Miles?

Is IT Band Syndrome Limiting Your Miles?

The IT band is a long piece of tissue that runs from outside the hip to the outside of the knee. This is an extremely important part of the hip that will impact it’s function if it’s tight or inhibited. This is when problems like ITBS or IT band syndrome come into play. Anyone who’s been running for a long time understands the debilitating nature of a tight, inhibited, or chronically dysfunctional IT band. The pain can manifest itself in several different ways such as hip pinching, low back pain, lack of hip function, and a burning sensation on the outside of the knee. ITBS is one of the most common overuse injuries afflicting up to 12 percent of runners, both beginners and elite.  

IT-band Syndrome can originate in many ways. One area that can influence this issue has to do higher up the leg with a muscle called the Tensor Fascia Latae (TFL). The IT band is really a longitudinal fibrous reinforcement of the TFL, and goes down the leg to connect on the outside of the knee and can rub against the lateral epicondyle or bony protrusion on the outside of the knee joint. When the TFL muscle gets too tight it can cause compensations, increasing the tension area in the knee leading to inflammation and pain. The pain can be so severe it can slow down even the most seasoned runners.  

Around 80% of runners will become injured annually, IT band tightness and IT band syndrome are some of the main causes of these injuries. This is crazy when you consider that running is the evolutionary niche that has allowed us to survive and thrive for hundreds of thousands of years. Saying that 80% of runners will be injured every year is like saying 80% of birds will be injured from flying every year. In order to keep yourself healthy and on the road it’s important to prioritize mobilizing the joints, muscles, tissues, and ligaments that are used when you run. This prevents compensation and overuse which will almost always lead to a more severe injury.  

Help keep IT Band syndrome off your radar by making the right stretches part of your routine! It is important to stretch the individual muscles that surround the hip, knee, and ankle joints. Stretches that target your glutes, hamstrings, adductors, abductors, calves, achilles, and the lower low back muscles are excellent tools to sustain and grow your mileage. Keeping these often-used areas flexible will help prevent ITBS and keep you running pain free! 

Written by Conner Fritchley, Stretch Therapist and LYMBR Academy Instructor.