What is TFL – Tensor Fasciae Latae pain, injury and tightness?
TFL pain or Tensor Fasciae Latae pain is extremely common among runners. If you’re experiencing tensor fasciae latae injury then you won’t be alone.
On this page we’re going to cover exactly what TFL pain is, what causes and symptoms of TFL injury are and perhaps most importantly of all, how to recover from it with some handy stretches and exercises proven to get runners back on their feet.
So what is the Tensor Fasciae Latae and what causes TFL tightness?
TFL or Tensor Fasciae Latae to give it it’s correct name, is actually a very small muscle that originates at the ilium, which is on the outside of your hip. It’s a ribbon like muscle which is around 18cm in length. To understand why TFL tightness and TFL pain is a problem, we must first understand what it does.
So firstly what exactly does the TFL muscle actually do?
Essentially the TFL muscle helps hip abduction (which is when you lift your leg out to the side), as well as hip flexion (when you bring your knee upwards towards your head) and hip internal rotation (when you turn your leg sideways to face the other leg). It connects to your IT band which itself functions like a long tendon for this muscle which is why the two injuries are often associated and experienced together.
As a runner, you’ve probably heard of the dreaded IT band injury which is also known as IT band syndrome which usually shows up as pain at the outer part of the knee. Many times though people will diagnose IT band pain at the hip which is actually incorrect, IT band pain is actually always at the knee, though TFL syndrome or problems can lead to IT band issues.
Causes of TFL pain and issues
There are a number of cause of TFL injuries or indeed TFL tightness, they generally follow the steps below:
- First up, it’s typically it’s weak or generally unused glute muscles (your butt muscles) are the root cause of this condition
- Disused glutes lead to another muscle called the “piriformis muscle” becoming engaged in order to help stabilise your hip movement.
- Which then results in runners commonly experiencing piriformis pain due to overuse, which can include sciatic pain (shooting pain in your hip and/or down the back of your leg).
- So then the TFL muscle gets used in order to start helping piriformis muscle to stabilise the hip which can then cause tightness in the TFL muscle.
- A tight TFL muscle then stops your glutes from being used properly when running, meaning they also stay weak
- Continued use of the TFL muscle (instead of the correct flute use) then leads to injury.
TFL pain symptoms and how to tell if you have an injury
There are a number of TFL symptoms that many runners can experience listed below. What we recommend as our number 1 pain relief method for TFL pain is this trigger point ball, we’ve used this ourselves to apply pressure effectively and really target the muscle:
- Pain in the outer part of the hip
- Pain experienced when lying on the hip
- You might experience pain down the outer thigh
- You experience pain worse there’s weight placed on the affected leg
It’s actually really common for runners to be misdiagnosed when they have this condition. For example we often see that people are told that they have another condition known as trochanteric bursitis because the symptoms are so difficult to tell apart. Fortunately for us, the treatment of both injuries is largely the same. The idea is to strengthen the surrounding muscles, so let’s take a look at just how to treat TFL pain below.
Tensor Fasciae Latae pain and treatments
Step 1 – Rest
The bad news as a runner suffering from tensor fasciae latae pain (tfl injury) is that you’re going to need to rest up. This is step number one in how to treat TFL pain, you need to make sure that this small muscle doesn’t continue to be overused, which can cause further injury. There are also running accessories out there that can help release this muscle (mentioned above).
Step 2 – Sleep with a pillow between your legs.
With this injury it’s really common to experience pain at night when sleeping on your side. As well as causing sleep issues this can also further aggravate the muscle. Placing a pillow between your knees can while you sleep can help you heal as well as ease any TFL symptoms such as pain.
Step 3 – Stretches for the TFL muscle.
Stretching in the correct way can be hugely beneficial to TFL injury and can help speed up the healing process. You need to make sure that the stretches that you do have correct form and are done in the right way. Check out the video below for some useful TFL stretches done in the right way.
Step 4 – Trigger point therapy
There are two options for TFL trigger point therapy, you can either do it yourself or rely on a trained massage therapist. If you’re doing this therapy yourself like most of us, you can help heal and ease tension in the following way.
The best and most effective way we’ve found to treat TFL muscle injury as quickly as possible is to use a movable trigger point therapy ball, that doesn’t slip and move like ordinary tennis or massage balls. After trying many, the best in our experience is this one:
If you take a massage ball, tennis ball or even a small squash ball, you can use these carry this out. So here’s what you do
- Lay on the painful side and place the ball under the painful area and then begin moving your body around the tender area where you’re experiencing the pain.
- Continue to do this over the entire painful area, it is likely at this point that you’re going to experience some level of pain or discomfort down the entire leg.
- You want to keep pressure on each spot for around 15 seconds at a time (this isn’t easy I know!).
- Keep reporting the above steps, with a maximum of two periods of pressure on each spot every 2 to 3 days.
Step 5 – Strengthening the muscles surrounding your Tensor Fasciae Latae muscle
As we mentioned earlier, the TFL muscle tends to become injured when the muscles around it are not properly engaged and being used properly, which is usually due to them being under developed.
To prevent future TFL pain and TFL tightness, muscle building exercises that target the area are key.