TFL: Tensor Fascia Lata
by Karen Ogilvie PT
This has become my new favorite stretch! Not only is it one I have to do often, but its also one that I am frequently demonstrating, explaining, drawing, reviewing, and REVIEWING with clients! It’s a tough one for the stickman to illustrate! So hopefully this picture, taken on a sunny, Fall hike in Bralorne, will save us all a little confusion.
Tensor Fascia Lata is one of those muscles that I work on with people frequently; it loves to get short and tight. TFL also likes to take over jobs that are not its own, putting other muscles out of work. Because of its attachments to the IT band, TFL is often a culprit in knee pain, iliotibial band syndrome (ITBS), patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS), and even meniscus injuries. It also contributes to hip, pelvic, and low back dysfunction. For such a small muscle, it can really wreak havoc on your body!
TFL originates along the crest of your pelvis, and creates a fan shape that narrows to attach to your iliotibial band (that big band of tissue separating your quads from your hamstrings that attaches just below your knee) – hence it’s effect on your knee. From the hip joint, it is TFL’s job is to FLEX (bend), ABDUCT (swing to the side), and INTERNALLY ROTATE (turn toes/knee in) your leg.
When this muscle gets tight, it makes it hard for your hip to sit in a neutral or centered position in its socket; TFL can drag the ball of your hip too far forwards in the joint. And if your hip is forward, all the muscles from your butt (your gluts, and a bunch of smaller muscles we don’t need to name) are at a disadvantage – they are sitting in a stretched position, and therefore cannot generate as much umph! Your gluts are a big source of power (running, going up stairs, hiking, lifting), certain gluts, mainly your Gluteus Medius is also a major stabilizer of your pelvis. Glut Med keeps you from falling over when your standing on one leg – something we do with EVERY step we take! So Glut Med helps to keep us upright, but it also helps us to externally rotate our leg (opposite action of TFL); and in doing so, keeps our knee tracking over our foot when we bend our knee (all those activities listed above).
So, the long and the short of it is, if we can lengthen TFL, we can improve the posture of our hips, maximize the mechanics of our knee and foot under that hip, and normalize the forces generated around our hips. Ok… there are probably a few other exercises needed to put it all together; but a healthy Tensor Fascia Lata will be a good start!
Before I get into this stretch, I like to roll my TFL against the wall or on the floor. Take a firm ball, place it in that fan of a muscle just under your hip crest, lean into the wall (or lie on the floor for more pressure), and ROLL. Side to side, up and down, find those spots that are begging for attention!! Foam rollers are great for this too.
Now, to the stretch:
(refer to my photo at the top of the post for assistance)
To stretch my right TFL
Lie on my back
Bend my LEFT knee (foot on the ground)
Place my RIGHT ankle on my LEFT thigh (just above my knee)
Tip my lower body to the LEFT until I feel a stretch in my RIGHT hip (your foot may reach the ground like mine, or you may need a block for support)
Using my RIGHT hand, I push my RIGHT knee away from me
**You should NOT feel ANYTHING in your knee!! If you do, back off. Lower the intensity, and hold it longer. If that doesn’t work, talk to one of us. While a long TFL can help your knee, going too far, too fast, can create NEW knee problems.
HOLD, HANG OUT. ENJOY!
Wanna watch muscles in action? Click on the link below to watch a very short video showing an animation of the muscles of hip rotation, including TFL…