Sports Massage for IT Band Syndrome

Simple sports massage techniques which may be used in the treatment and rehabilitation of Iliotibial band syndrome.

Benefits of massage for ITB syndrome

The following sports massage guide is intended for information purposes only. We recommend seeking professional advice and checking for massage contraindications before attempting any self help treatment. A tight ITB can contribute to friction at the knee and sports massage is an excellent way of relieving the tension in the tendon.

The aim of sports massage is to release tension in the muscle and fascia and stimulate blood flow. Massage must not be performed during the acute stage of an injury - usually at least 48 hours after injury. For grade two and three strains, massage may not be suitable for over a week. This is because if there is still bleeding then heat and massage will increase bleeding, not stop it.

Equipment required

A lubricant is needed to allow the hands to glide smoothly. A number of massage oils are available to buy. A cheap but effective alternative is simple baby oil. Do not use too much oil. Enough to allow for smooth, controlled movement is required but too much will mean a lack of control. A firm, flat surface to lie on in order to apply pressure.

Technique 1: Effleurage

Aim - light stroking to warm up the area in preparation for deeper techniques.

  • With the hands stroke lightly but firmly upwards from just above the knee to the top of the thigh. Aim to cover as much of the leg as possible, particularly the outside where the Iliotibial band is.
  • Always stroke upwards towards the heart as this is the direction of blood flow. The other way can damage veins.
  • Then lightly bring the hands down the side to the start position again.
  • Repeat the whole movement using slow stroking techniques, trying to cover as much of the surface as possible.
  • Repeat this technique for about 5 to 10 minutes, gradually applying deeper pressure on the up strokes.

Technique 2: Petrissage

Aim - kneading techniques to further warm up and manipulate the muscles. These techniques can stretch muscles sideways in a manner that normal stretching cannot.

  • With the fingers of one hand pull the muscle towards you whilst pushing it away with the thumb of the other hand.
  • Aim to lift the muscle away from the bone and move it across the bone.
  • Reverse the action to pull towards with the fingers of the other hand and away with the thumb of the first hand.
  • This should be a slow and deliberate movement. Too much oil will make it difficult.
  • The therapist will find their own particular style which will come naturally - stay relaxed when performing this technique.
  • Petrissage may be applied for 5 to 10 minutes alternating with effleurage as the therapist feels.

Technique 3: Stripping the Iliotibial band

Aim - to apply deeper pressure specifically to the Iliotibial band, eliminating tight spots which prevent effective stretching.

  • This is the business part of the sports massage techniques. It is this technique that will have a real effect on the healing of this injury.
  • With the heal of the hand, slowly apply deep pressure along the side of the thigh (just above the knee but not on any sore areas) all the way up the band to the top of the thigh.
  • The therapist should be able to feel the Iliotibial band to know the technique is performed correctly.
  • Pressure should be as firm as possible without causing the athlete to tense up with pain. This will make any treatment useless.
  • Repeat 5 to 10 times and alternate with petrissage techniques.
  • This technique can also be performed using the thumb for a deeper, more specific effect.

Technique 4: Circular frictions and trigger points.

Aim - to iron out any particular lumps, bumps and knots.

  • If the therapist finds any tight areas or knots in the iliotibial band then these can be worked out by applying circular frictions directly to the tight spot.  
  • Gradually increase the pressure but not so much that the athlete tenses up.
  • The above techniques can be uncomfortable for the athlete so start gently.

To apply trigger point therapy:

  • Apply direct pressure on a tight spot until it ranks 7/10 on the pain scale (10 being very painful).
  • Hold this pressure until it eases off to 4/10 on the pain scale (usually within 10 seconds).
  • Without easing off with the pressure, increase again until it reaches 7/10 on the pain scale once more. Hold until it eases, repeat once more.  
  • This technique is very hard on the thumbs. It is important to keep the thumb slightly bent (flexed) when applying pressure to avoid damaging the joints

Finishing off

The therapist can finish off by returning to effleurage techniques. The whole process should take about half an hour. Massage therapy can be applied every day if it is performed lightly however deeper techniques may require a day inbetween treatments to allow tissues to 'recover'.