how do I stretch my tensor fasciae latae

Top 10 Tensor Fasciae Latae Stretches That Your Legs Need

July 15, 2021

The tensor fasciae latae A.K.A. the TFL is a small but mighty muscle that is frequently overworked as it is put into action with each step we take. As a result, the tensor fasciae latae can become tight, leading to uncomfortable pain. The TFL works with multiple muscles enabling us to walk and stay balanced on one leg.

This muscle is well known to professionals in pain management, however it isn’t completely understood on how it works with the other hip abductors or its neighbor the iliotibial band. What we do know is that the tensor fasciae latae is a muscle that should be stretched and massaged in order to keep it in good health. Continue reading for step by step instructions and images depicting the 10 best TFL stretches plus bodyweight exercises to help reduce its over-activity.

tensor fascia latae muscle

WHAT IS THE TENSOR FASCIAE LATAE?

The tensor fasciae latae gets its name from the Latin words tendere meaning to tense, fascia meaning band and latae meaning side or lateral. The name literally describes the function and location of the muscle. It is the muscle that tenses a band on the side of the body. Many people have trouble with the pronunciation of the tensor fasciae latae so it is more commonly referred to as the TFL.

The TFL is fusiform muscle (spindle shaped muscle- wider in the middle with narrowing ends) located in the thigh area between two layers of fascia latae. It’s approximately 7 inches(18cm) long, 1/16 inch(2mm) thick and is covering part of the gluteus minimus and the gluteus medius.

FUNCTION OF THE TFL

The function of the tensor fasciae latae is to medially rotate and abduct the femur at the hip joint. Due to the oblique direction of the muscle fibers, the TFL works in unison with multiple muscle groups to aid in movement and stabilization of the hip and knee especially during extension. The TFL is considered a hip abductor muscle that also works with the gluteus medius and gluteus minimus to internally rotate and abduct the hip.

Perhaps the most basic function of the TFL is walking. However, the TFL is heavily involved in activities like kicking a soccer ball, jumping over hurdles and riding horses. Lastly, in all single leg movements the TFL is engaged to help us balance.

What is the Iliotibial Band?

You will often hear about the IT band when talking about the TFL for good reason. The TFL and IT band have a close relationship especially in circumstances where the TFL allows the IT band to load up and generate more elastic force which is crucial in many dynamic sports.

The iliotibial band gets its name from the Latin words ilio referring to the ilium (big flat bone of the pelvis) and tibial referencing the tibia and band because the ilotibial band is a narrow sinewy strip. The iliotibial band is frequently abbreviated to IT band or ITB. It’s also known as the iliotibial tract or Maissiat’s band. This long strand of fascia is on the outer leg and it stretches from the hip to the knee and shinbone.

Function of the Iliotibial Band

The main function of the ITB is to abduct, extend and rotate the hip. The ITB also provides protection to the outer thigh and helps to stabilize and move the outer knee. Even though it is not technically a muscle the IT band helps to store and release elastic tension making activities like walking and running more efficient.  Like the TFL the ITB can become overused. This overactivity of repetitive flexion and extension of the knees can lead to a common injury suffered by runners and cyclists called IT band syndrome or ITBS. When the ITB becomes tight, swollen or irritated it can cause too much friction on the lateral side of the knee when bending, resulting in pain. ITBS can even lead to referred hip pain in some cases.

What Causes a Tight TFL?

A tight TFL can be contributed to a number of causes but the most common reason is that it is overused to help compensate for weakness in the surrounding muscles. The progression leading to a tight TFL muscle is as follows:

Weak gluteal muscles lead to the piriformis becoming overworked to aid in stabilizing the hip which in turn results in the TFL helping the piriformis, finally leading to tight TFL muscles.

Oher common causes of tight TFL include poor posture with your weight shifted to one side, prolonged periods of sitting, weak hip flexors and weak hip abductors.

How to Test if the TFL is Tight?

Before we get into stretches for the TFL you should perform an assessment to see if you in fact have a tight TFL muscle. We will cover two of the most common tests for determing if you suffer from tight TFL muscles.

Note: You should consult your doctor to diagnose and treat all injuries or before starting new stretching or exercise routines

Thomas Test

This test gets its name from Dr. Hugh Owen Thomas, a British orthopaedic surgeon in the 1800’s. He used this test to rule out psoas syndrome and hip flexion contracture. The test is rather straightforward as you can see below.

test tight TFL

How to:

  • Lie down on your back towards the end of a table and bring both knees up towards your chest
  • Holding one knee, let the other leg lower down in front of you
  • Take a mental note of where your leg ends up
  • Repeat on the other side

Result:  If your lowered leg ends up out to your side instead of straight down under you, you might have a tight TFL.

Ober’s Test

Developed by Frank Ober this test first appeared in an article in 1935 of the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery when discussing back strain and sciatica. The purpose of this test is to assess tightness of the TFL and ITB.

How to test tight TFL

How to:

  • The patient will be on their side with the affected side up
  • The lower leg will be bent so that the knee will be at 90 degrees
  • Without any movement in the pelvis, the patient will lift the upper leg and move it backwards without moving the lower back. Then the leg will be lowered
  • At this point the knee position is assessed

Result: If the upper knee can’t by lowered past the mid line of the body then the TFL may be tight.

Modified Ober Test

How to:

  • The patient will lie on their side with the lower leg flexed at the hip and knee in order to flatten the lower back
  • Then the examiner will hold the pelvis and trunk in place so it stays in contact with the table
  • The examiner will then extend the leg

Result: If the leg doesn’t drop to around 10 degrees below the mid line then it indicates a tight TFL and ITB.

10 BEST TENSOR FASCIAE LATAE STRETCHES 

Tight TFL muscles can often lead to TFL pain. To mitigate your chances of experiencing TFL tightness you should be stretching this muscle frequently. The TFL is one of the most used muscles in the body because it’s recruited in many daily functions such as walking and climbing stairs. We put together the 10 best stretches to release tight TFL muscles.

Note: Speak with your doctor before attempting any new stretching or exercise routine.

1. Lying Abductor Stretch

tensor fasciae latae stretches

  • Lie down on your side then brace yourself using your hand
  • Bring your outer leg up and plant your foot on the ground with your toes facing away from you
  • Lean your hips into the extended leg to get a good stretch in the TFL
  • Hold for 30 seconds
  • Switch sides
  • Repeat 2-3 reps

2. Hip Circles Stretch

 tensor fasciae latae injury

  • Stand with feet hip width apart placing your hands on your hips
  • Slowly move your hips in a circular motion completing full circles
  • Repeat for desired reps then switch directions. Try increasing the diameter of the circles as you progress
  • Complete 2-3 sets of 10 reps in each direction

    3. Lying Leg Hanging Stretch

    how do I loosen my TFL


    • Lie down on a bench or the edge of a bed on your side
    • Support your head with your hand, lower your upper leg over the side of the bench/bed
    • Hold this position for 30-60 seconds
    • Switch sides
    • Repeat for 2-3 times

    4. Standing Balance Outer Hip Stretch

    TFL stretches

    • Stand with feet hip width apart
    • Bring up one leg and bend your knee, holding your ankle. You can use one hand to hold your ankle and the other to hold onto something for added stability.
    • Slowly lean towards the side of your lifted leg to stretch the TFL
    • Hold for up 30 seconds
    • Switch sides
    • Repeat 2-3 times

    5. Standing Leg Cross Abductor Stretch

    tensor fasciae latae pain

    • Stand with feet hip width apart
    • Bring one leg behind you crossing past your front foot. You can use the wall or another prop for extra stability.
    • Lean your weight through the leg crossed behind, driving your hips forward
    • Hold this stretch for 30-60 seconds
    • Switch sides
    • Repeat 2-3 times

      6. Leaning Abductor Stretch

      tensor fasciae latae stretching

        • Stand with feet close together next to a wall
        • Place your hand on the wall to brace yourself
        • Lean your weight towards your outer hip
        • Hold this position for 30-60 seconds
        • Switch sides
        • Repeat 2-3 times

          7. Cross Over Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch

           tensor fascia lata stretches

            • Stand with feet hip width apart
            • Get into lunge position by taking a step forward with one leg then lower down until your front leg’s thigh is parallel with the floor
            • Lean forward while rotating towards your front leg
            • Hold this position for 30-60 seconds
            • Switch sides
            • Repeat 2-3 times

              8. Iron Cross Stretch

              tfl pain

                • Lie down on your back and bring your arms out to your sides
                • Lift one leg over placing your leg on the opposite side of your body
                • Try keeping your pelvis forward and lower back on the ground
                • Hold this position for 30-60 seconds
                • Switch sides
                • Repeat 2-3 times

                  9. Static Standing TFL Stretch

                    • Stand in a staggered stance with the foot behind pointing outwards and rotating your hip at 45 degrees
                    • Contract your glutes driving your weight forward until you feel a stretch
                    • Reach up across and back with your arm on the stretching side
                    • Hold for 30 seconds
                    • Switch sides
                    • Repeat 2-3 times

                    Note: Click here to see the stretch demonstrated by NASM Youtube

                    10. Quadruped Active TFL Stretch

                    • Get down on the ground with hands stacked under the shoulders and knees under the hips
                    • Extend one leg behind you by contracting the glutes
                    • Externally rotate the hip pointing your toes out at 45 degrees
                    • Keeping a neutral spine adduct the hip
                    • Hold for up to 30 seconds
                    • Switch sides
                    • Repeat 2-3 times

                    How do I Strengthen my TFL?

                    The best way to strengthen your TFL is by performing exercises where your leg is being lifted away from the mid line of your body during hip abduction. The TFL isn’t like other smaller muscles that can be isolated and strengthened, it is generally used in conjunction with surrounding hip abductor muscles like the gluteus minimus and gluteus medius.

                    It’s interesting to note that it may be more important to strengthen the surrounding muscles of the TFL to prevent overactivity or injury. The TFL can become overused because it is compensating for weaker muscles.

                    Related: 10 Hip Abductor Exercises for Stronger Hips

                    5 TENSOR FASCIAE LATAE EXERCISES TO REDUCE OVER-ACTIVITY

                    The TFL is a small workhorse of a muscle that can become overused. Because of this reason it’s important to perform strengthening exercises that activate the neighboring hip abductor muscles, the gluteus minimus and gluteus medius while reducing the load on the TFL.

                    1. Clamshell with Bands

                    tensor fasciae latae exercises

                    • Lie down on your side with your legs together and knees bent at 45 degrees
                    • Rest your head on your lower arm, keeping your feet together, raise your upper leg as high as you can
                    • Briefly pause at the top
                    • Slowly return to starting position
                    • Switch sides
                    • Complete 2-3 sets of 10 reps each side

                    Note: Make it easier by performing without a resistance band.

                    2. Sidesteps with Bands

                    tensor fasciae latae action
                    • Stand with feet hip width apart in an athletic stance with knees slightly bent, leaning forward
                    • Step to your side so that your feet are slightly wider than shoulder width apart
                    • Step your other foot towards the first foot
                    • Switch sides
                    • Complete 2-3 sets of 20 reps each side

                    Note: Make it easier by completing without a resistance band.

                    3. Quadruped Hip Extension

                    tensor fasciae latae function

                    • Get onto the floor with hands stacked under shoulders and knees under the hips
                    • Keeping your back straight and core engaged, press one leg up and back behind you until your leg is fully extended
                    • Slowly return to starting position
                    • Switch sides
                    • Complete 2-3 sets of 15 reps on each side

                    4. Quadruped Hip Extension with Bent Knee

                    TFL exercises

                    • Get onto the floor with hands stacked under shoulders and knees under the hips
                    • Keeping your back straight and core engaged, press one leg back behind you keeping your knee bent at 90 degrees
                    • Slowly return to starting position
                    • Switch sides
                    • Complete 2-3 sets of 15 reps on each side

                    5. Single Leg Glute Bridge

                    • Lie down on your back with your knees bent and feet planted on the floor, arms to your sides for extra support
                    • Lift one leg off the ground extended in front of you
                    • Keeping your upper back on the floor contract your glutes and push through the heel of the foot on the floor, raising your hips off the ground until your knee, hips and shoulders create a straight line.
                    • Keeping your core engaged the whole time pause briefly at the top for 1-2 seconds then return to starting position
                    • Switch sides
                    • Complete 2-3 sets of 10 reps on each side

                     

                    TENSOR FASCIAE LATAE PAIN

                    TFL pain can present itself in a variety of ways and be the result of different stresses. The usual symptoms of TFL pain are:

                    • Outer thigh pain
                    • Outer hip pain
                    • Pain when lying down on your side
                    • Pain on outer thigh area when weight is placed on that leg

                    How do you Treat TFL Pain?

                    The symptoms of TFL pain a largely similar to trochanteric bursitis and for both of these conditions the treatment protocol is almost the same.

                    • Rest: You should cease any activity like running or high impact sports when suffering from TFL pain. You should give it time to heal which can last anywhere between 1-6 weeks depending on the severity of the injury.
                    • Stretching: One of the best ways to relieve TFL pain is to stretch the muscle using some of the examples we gave you above. Make sure to stretch the TFL after workouts especially running based routines. You should also stretch this muscle after prolonged periods of sitting.
                    • Trigger Point Therapy: Use a massage ball or foam roller to massage out the tight painful spots in the muscle. This will help to improve blood flow and oxygen circulation into the muscle tissue allowing it to recover faster.
                    • Sleep with a pillow: Sleeping with a pillow between your legs when on your side can provide comfortable support while aligning your legs and hips better.
                    • Strengthening: Strengthening the TFL will help to reduce the risk of injuring it in the future. It’s also beneficial to strengthen the muscles around the TFL including the piriformis, gluteus medius, gluteus minimus and hip flexors.

                    TENSOR FASCIAE LATAE RELEASE

                    To release a tight TFL muscle without stretching you can look to trigger point therapy or myofascial release using a massage ball, foam roller or other semi-rigid ball. The TFL tends to tighten up because it’s a very active muscle, this tightness can lead to pain, hip and knee instability and in some cases dysfunction such as piriformis syndrome pain.

                    tfl muscle stretches

                    Follow these steps to use massage to release a tight TFL muscle:

                    • Locate the TFL which is in the front corner space between the iliac crest and the greater trochanter of the femur.
                    • Place the ball or foam roller on the ground
                    • Lie down on your side with the ball or roller on your TFL then brace yourself on your forearm. You can also bend your upper leg and place your foot on the floor in front of you for more support.
                    • Roll up and down on the pain points for 30-60 seconds
                    • Repeat 2-3 times
                    • Switch sides

                    Related: 19 Piriformis Exercises to Fix Sciatica, Lower Back & Glute Pain

                    How Long to Heal Tensor Fasciae Latae?

                    The healing time of a TFL injury is dependent on the injury. If there’s a muscle strain then the recovery time can last for 1-3 weeks. For more serious muscle tears recovery can take 4-6 weeks or longer to heal. It’s important to treat TFL pain early on as untreated injuries can result in chronic pain with extended recovery periods.

                    Can you Run with a TFL Injury?

                    You should let the TFL heal before attempting to restart your running. An injured or weakened TFL means that your posture and gait will be compromised as other muscles will try to compensate for the lack of support. The TFL is a crucial muscle to help support the hips and knee which are two regions of the body that are worked when running. The TFL is shortened in the hips with each step you take.  The knee absorbs a decent amount of impact from your feet hitting the ground while running.

                    Running is a high impact activity that can worsen a TFL injury and also cause other issues such as knee pain, patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS), iliotibial band syndrome (ITBS) and even meniscus injuries.

                    exercises for the tensor fasciae latae

                    FINAL NOTE

                    The TFL requires adequate attention and maintenance as this little powerhouse often takes on too much trying to pick up the slack for its weaker counterparts. Whether you’re an extremely active person that runs daily or extremely inactive sitting for most of the day it is necessary to regularly stretch and massage the tensor fasciae latae. By being proactive and treating your TFL with the care it deserves you will save yourself the inconvenience of experiencing tightness or pain in the future.

                    More Resources on Stretching:



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