There are few areas of the body as misunderstood as the IT (iliotibial) band. What is it, anyway? Though some think it's a muscle, it's actually fascia (aka connective tissue) that runs from the outside of your hip to the knee and down to your shin. You don't typically need to strengthen it—the IT band is already incredibly tough, storing energy and working like a powerful spring. You can't stretch it either, as it's not flexible, but you can stretch the muscles surrounding it.  

All of these misconceptions can complicate treatment of IT Band Syndrome, a common overuse injury mainly seen in runners and other fitness lovers. It happens when the IT band becomes inflamed, which can cause swelling and pain on the outside of the knee. If you experience this, try backing off high-impact exercise like running and doing lower-impact activities like swimming or cycling, and seek out a sports medicine doctor if pain persists. The best way to prevent this condition is to train consistently, stresses physical therapist Murphy Halasz. If you go ramp up your exercise routine too quickly—say, going from not running at all to logging 5+ kms a day or cramming all your exercise into the weekends—there's a greater chance you'll end up in pain. It's important to ease into your routine. (If you're over 40 and about to start running for the first time, here are 8 things you need to know.)

So what should you do if you suspect your IT band is too tight? First, visit a doctor to get the correct diagnosis and discuss treatment options. Then, practice healing exercises to strengthen and loosen the surrounding muscles that help take stress off this tissue. The following moves should help: