Help! I Struggle With IT Band, Tight Muscles and Trigger Points

Help! I Struggle With IT Band, Tight Muscles and Trigger Points

I put this post together in response to the high number of questions I was getting on tight muscles, trigger points, and IT band issues. While not an exhaustive source by any means, this post should help get you started on treating and avoiding injuries.

What are Trigger Points?

Trigger points are hyper-sensitive irritable knots or areas that occur in various parts of the body. They often develop over time, especially during repetitive motion exercises (like running) or as a result of poor posture. As trigger points develop, they can cause pain in the area of the trigger point as well as in areas of the body away from the trigger point. This condition is known as referred pain.  In many cases, referred pain often leads people to think they’re injured in the referred location, as opposed to where the real issue lies.

The below diagrams show common trigger point locations on the front and back of the body.

Trigger Points (Front)

Trigger Points Front

 Trigger Points (Back)

Trigger Points back

Massage Therapy

Massage therapy from a licensed massage therapist, athletic trainer, or physical therapist can help identify trigger points and tight fascia (think IT band).  Using hands-on techniques, they can apply focused pressure on the trigger point and help restore the normal muscle/tension function.  By applying the appropriate level of pressure and motion, trigger points can be removed and the fascia loosened.  The most common place for trigger points to appear in runners is in the calves and quads. Often tight calves are caused by one or more trigger points, so stretching, in comparison, has a minimal effect.

Foam Rollers and the Benefits of Foam Rolling

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Foam rollers, when used correctly and frequently, can help you manage painful and irritable areas by helping you reduce or eliminate knots and tight fascia.  In some cases, a foam roller can do this at a significant fraction of the cost of massage therapy.  Personally, I find that sports massage is a lot more effective and faster than foam rolling, but the latter is certainly worth a try and is great for maintenance.  Foam rollers run about $20-50, depending on the size and type of roller needed.

Some benefits of foam rolling:

  • Increased flexibility and range of motion
  • Improved circulation
  • Decreased muscle spasms
  • Removal or reduction of trigger points and pain
  • Potential reduction in injury
  • Reduction of anxiety and stress which leads to feeling better
  • Increased core and supporting muscle strength
  • Improved posture

Note: Foam rolling is not for everyone. While extremely beneficial, people with certain conditions, especially with neck, back or spine issues should see a physician prior to starting an exercise program or using a foam roller.

What Types of Foam Rollers are Best for Runners?

There are dozens of possibilities when it comes to finding the best foam roller, but for most exercises and massage techniques, it really comes down to just a few choices and sizes. In most cases, just 2-3 different types of rollers can cover 90% or more of all the foam roller exercises and massage therapy/stretching available.

Since foam rollers are a low-cost item, it’s my opinion that every runner should have a couple of these on hand. The benefits of foam rolling are well-documented, and rollers can really help with flexibility, muscle tightness, and even injury prevention. Not a bad investment for under $50!

The High Density Foam Roller

For beginners and casual users, a 36″ x 6″ high-density foam roller (full round) and a stick roller (optional) is about all you will ever need for a majority of exercises and massage/stretching techniques available. After that, you can experiment with other types of rollers, but most are really only different in that they are adjusting for length, surface (smooth vs. knobby), or hardness.

The Grid Foam Roller

Another variation of the high-density foam roller is a grid foam roller. The main difference is that it contains a rougher surface.  These types are best for removing or reducing trigger point pain.  The industry standard and recommended roller in this category is the Grid Foam Roller by Trigger Point Performance. It’s awesome, and I love mine! Be sure to get the 26″ version, which is a sufficient size. They also have a 13″ version, but that’s too small for most practical applications.

Original Massage Stick

Finally, the roller most runners are familiar with is a stick or handheld roller. Stick or handheld rollers are portable and best used on the legs (quads, calf muscles, and hamstrings). These are popular among runners, because they can accurately apply pressure to the legs exactly where it’s needed. The most common type of stick roller and one that is especially popular with runners and therapists alike is “The Stick” Original Body Stick . The Stick is my second choice of roller and one that you should seriously consider purchasing after purchasing a 36″ high-density foam roller.

Last update on 2020-12-03 / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API


Last update on 2020-12-03 / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API



Last update on 2020-12-03 / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API





Additional Running Resources

PaceBuilders™ Online Run Coaching - PaceBuilders is a comprehensive online run coaching program for runners of any experience level. With two unique, affordable coaching options to choose from, you can learn to run faster, run farther and run injury free. Inside PaceBuilders, you can work directly with experienced, RRCA/USATF certified running coaches or you can choose to follow our self-coached program and take advantage of unlimited access to all of our training assets including training plans, runner-specific strength training plans, nutrition information, mindset, race strategy, pacing guidance, LIVE monthly Q&A sessions, private client community and more!  

Runner's Toolkit - Get access to 30 days of free coaching tips by email and get your #1 running question personally answered by me, just for signing up. Plus get free access to our private Facebook community where other RunBuzz community members gather for support, camaraderie and general shenanigans.

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What are your strategies for dealing with tight muscles and trigger points?

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Happy running!

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Steve is the founder and head running coach of Steve is host of the RunBuzz podcast and founder of PaceBuilders, a complete online training program for runners. Steve is a RRCA / USA Track and Field Certified Running Coach and resides in Lewis Center, Ohio.