MMA Injury: IT Band Injuries are Sneaky

Most mixed martial arts fighters that I have met regularly train explosive kicking and sprawling drills. The nature of this type of training combined with boxing, grappling, running and some form of plyometrics, places tremendous strain on the hamstrings, adductors (inner thighs), gluts (outer hip) and the IT band. To avoid tightness and stiffness in these areas most fighters part-take in the conventional stretches: straight leg hamstring stretch on the back, figure four stretch on the back, American splits and center splits. However, these stretches do not address the tightening that occurs in the IT Band. In fact, most fighters are not even aware of the IT band and the value of lengthening it on a regular basis.


The best exercise for lengthening the IT band.

What is the IT Band?

The iliotibial band (IT) runs on the lateral portion of the upper thigh. It travels from the hip to the side of the knee. It attaches to the gluteal muscles and the tensor fascia lata muscle (which assists in abducting the leg), which is on the side of the hip. The lower part connects to the tibia, just below the knee. It is comprised of a thick fibrous tissue and acts as a stabilizer for the knee. Due to where this tissue runs, when injured, irritated or inflamed, pain is felt on the side of thigh or knee, particularly on the outside of the mid thigh.

How do MMA Players get IT Band Injuries?

Typically this type of injury is found in runners, giving it its nickname of 'runner's knee.' However, it is quite likely to occur in athletes where tremendous stress is placed on the knee from lateral forces. In a mixed martial artist's typical week this comes in the form of training takedowns, defending takedowns, receiving leg kicks, explosive pivoting for powerful kicks to thai pads, leg locks and even open guard training. When these sport-specific movements are added to running and lack of stretching of the IT band, the integrity of the knee joint diminishes, possibly causing IT problems.


Most IT band injuries are over-looked by martial artists and considered an injured hip or achy knees. Without experience and the advise of a sport medicine professional to assess the injury, IT band problems can be hard to self-diagnose. The best way to intercept this type of injury is to incorporate IT band specific stretches and continue to strengthen the gluteal area to help the muscles fire properly when they are needed. Below are a few ways to lengthen the IT band. The one that works the best for individuals who are quite flexible is lateral foam rolling (see picture and explanation below)

Lateral Foam Rolling

Begin by laying perpendicular to the foam roller. Your body position is a side plank, using your elbow to support your body weight. Lay gently onto the foam roller. Make sure you are balanced before rolling. Avoid falling back onto your buttock. The IT band lies on the lateral section of the upper thigh and therefore you must apply the foam roller to that area specifically. Once you have found this position of balance, begin to slowly roll up and down the entire length of your thigh. You may find this quite painful. Try to use your breathe to manage the pain and keep your focus on the lengthening of this area. Begin with 5-10 rolls.

Standing IT Band Stretch:

Begin by stretching the IT band of your right leg. Stand with your left side facing the wall. Cross your right leg behind your left, while putting your left hand against the wall. Shift your weight onto the right leg and lean against the wall by pushing your right hip away from the wall. Make sure that your right foot is parallel to the wall during the stretch. You should be able to feel the stretch in your hip and down the IT band or the side of the leg. Do the same thing on the other side. If you are fairly flexible you may not feel this stretch.

IT Stretch on Your Back:

Lie on your back and put your right ankle on the opposite knee. Using your left hand grab the right foot, and put your right hand on the right knee. Gently pull up and to the left with both hands until you feel a pulling on your right side. You can manipulate this stretch by changing the direction you pull.

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  • fb_avatar

    My doctor recommended a golf ball muscle roller for my ITBS, surprisingly worked very well, check it out!!

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