My last blog post, Understanding Why The Hip Snaps, described anterior hip snapping which occurs at the front of the hip and lateral hip snapping which occurs along the outside of the hip. Lateral hip snapping can be attributed to a tightening in the iliotibial band.
The gluteus maximus and the tensor fascia lata muscles merge into this band, which is actually a tendon that attaches the two muscles to the skeleton. Tightness in either of the two muscles, or in the actual tendon itself, can cause a snapping as the iliotibial band slides across the bony projection on the outside of the femur, or thigh bone, called the greater trochanter.
The gluteus maximus begins at the lower spine and merges with the tensor fascia lata and connects to the leg via the iliotibial (IT) band. It is responsible for returning the leg to its original position after it has been lifted to the front, lifting the leg in arabesque, and is one of the main muscles involved in turning the leg out. It is a muscle that is used excessively in all kinds of dance and especially in forms like ballet and Irish dance since they require the dancers to be constantly turned out.
The tensor fascia lata begins at the front of the pelvis and runs in front of the hip joint before it merges with the gluteus maximus in the IT band. This muscle is responsible for lifting the leg to the front or the side and rotating it inward. The constant raising of the legs required in dance relies significantly on this muscle.
The tendinous IT band itself may also grow tight. All of the muscles and tendons in our body are surrounded by a strong, fibrous, connective tissue that supports, protects, and holds the shape of the muscles and tendons called fascia. Fascia is made of densely packed proteins called collagens. When fasica is healthy, it is soft, elastic, and supple, but when it is irritated or inflamed from overuse, it becomes dry and its fibers contract, bunch up, and become “tangled”. This bunching causes tightness, and since fascia is also filled with nerves, can be painful.
Some immediate ways of dealing with a tight IT band are stretching the gluteus maximus and the tensor fascia lata muscles. The gluteus maximus can be stretched by lying on the back with the legs extended, and then bending the right knee up toward the left shoulder and holding it for 20-30 seconds and repeating it with the left knee toward the right shoulder. Dancers can also stretch this muscle by placing one leg up on the barre in a turned out front attitude position while leaning forward over the leg.
The tensor fasica lata and the IT band can be stretched by holding onto a chair or barre with the right arm, crossing the right leg behind and around the left leg, pushing the left hip outward, and reaching the upper body to the right toward the barre or chair, holding it for 20-30 seconds, and repeating it on the other side. This same exercise can also be done by crossing the legs, pushing the hip outward, and bending the upper body all the way over toward the floor. Of course, it is important that the body be warm when doing any of these stretches.
Another way to help eliminate some tightness would be to use a foam roller along the outside of the thigh. Gentle pressure on fascia begins to soften the tissue, elongate the fibers, and “untangle” the bundles so that the fibers become supple once again.
While the stretching is an immediate fix, it is important to be evaluated by a physical therapist with knowledge of dance medicine to determine how to create balanced hip muscles and keep this problem from becoming a chronic one.