It’s difficult to say, “Tensor Fasciae Latae” and not think of coffee. In fact, I think a lot about coffee and a lot about this muscle. So, without any sugar, let’s look at this incredibly important muscle.
The tensor fasciae latae, or TFL from here on, is one of the most important thigh muscles. What makes this such an important muscle for runners and cyclists is that it is linked to both the glute maximus muscle and the iliotibial band. (Anyone who has had an ITB injury might be reading more carefully now).
The muscle’s most important function is to keep you stable while standing, walking or running. Its name is Latin in origin and means, “stretcher of the wide band”.
If you are seated, run your thumb up your thigh. You will come across the anterior superior iliac spine. That’s a really long name for those two bony bumps on the front part of your hip. If you now run your thumb down toward the chair you will come across the muscle. Press the muscle in with your thumb and stand up. You will feel the muscle engage a bit. Now, lift the opposite leg and you will feel the muscle contract – it’s doing what it loves to do – pulling on your iliotibial band which is attached to your knee. As it does that, it stops the opposite hip from dropping too much.
The muscle also is used as a hip flexor and abductor muscle – think, swinging your leg forward which is what the hip flexors do and swinging your leg outward. It loves movement but does not enjoy being seated for too long because that’s when it shortens. You can read more about the dangers of sitting here.
When things go wrong.
Two primary things can go wrong with a muscle: weakening and shortening. Any imbalance in the muscle can affect you while doing many sports, and in particular: horse riding, hurdling, running and water skiing. A weak and/or shortened muscle can lead to hip pain, ITB or pain on the side of the knee and lower back pain.
Most runners and some cyclists will be aware of the term, iliotibial band syndrome. The injury presents as a pain on the outer side of the knee. The TFL muscle is almost always involved in the injury. Weakness in the hip abductors and general pelvic stability can bring on ITB. So, look out for signs of pain on the outside of the hips and pain running down the outer thigh. Pain might become worse when you stand on the one leg.
There are a number of habits that you can fall into that include standing, sitting and sleeping. You will basically spend the whole day doing one of the big “S’s” This video will give you an idea of movement patterns to avoid.
If your TFL is playing up get it released. Get to your physio, sports massage therapist or give me a call. Trigger point release methods should be employed here. Also, you can try to stretch it as follows –
Work on some hip hikes. Lock the knee on your standing leg and slowly drop and then elevate your hip on the other side. It’s the muscles on your standing leg that will get stronger. You can do 2 – 3 sets of 10 to 12 reps.
The role of running shoes.
Excessive pronation or inward rolling of the foot will cause the tibia and femur to roll inward. This will place strain on the glute medius muscle. That kinetic chain of events can cause issues with the TFL. Give us a call when buying your next pair of running shoes. We can film you on the treadmill, analyse the recording and make sure that you get into the correct shoe.
So, here is to your next latte, may it be strong and full of flavor, and, may your tensor fasciae latae function with power and grace.