WTF is the TFL?
If you've ever had a hip or knee injury as a runner, you most likely have heard of the TFL. But what exactly is it and what role does it play in daily movement? The TFL (tensor fascia latae) is a muscle responsible for flexing, abducting (bringing out to the side), and internally rotating your hip. The TFL originates at the top of your pelvis and narrows into an attachment to your iliotibial band. Tightness in this muscle pulls the ball of your hip too far forward in the socket and makes it difficult for your hip to maintain its neutral position when walking and running.
Previous studies have shown decreased knee dysfunction from stretching the TFL but what about other musculoskeletal pains? A recent study looked at the effects of static stretching of the TFL on patients with lower back pain. Twenty-three subjects who tested positive for a shortened TFL with complaint of lower back pain were split into a control group and an experimental groups. Each group marked their pain on a visual analog scale, filled out a Oswestry disability Index questionnaire, and performed a stand and reach test prior to beginning the study. Two weeks later, each group repeated the same questionnaires and flexibility test.
Both groups stretched the TFL 7 times/week holding for 50 seconds 6 times each.
The control group stretched in a standing position and the experimental group stretched laying on their back with the leg bent, adducted and internally rotated to drop below the table using the weight of the leg as a load. The study found that both groups reported decreased pain on the visual analog scale and decreased disability on the Oswestry. There was a significant difference between the stand and reach tests for the two groups.
Bottom line: stretching the TFL reduced pain in patients with lower back pain, increased their flexibility, and helped them return to pain-free activities of daily living. More and more research supports that increased mobility of your muscles improves your overall joint range of motion and function. Make stretching a priority in your exercise routine.
Your body will thank you, especially the next day!
Bae, H., Kim, D., & Sung, Y. (2017). Effects of a static stretch using a load on low back pain patents with shortened tensor fascia latae. Journal of Exercise Rehabilitation,13(2), 227-231
Lisbeth Hoyt, DPT