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TFL Muscle - What It Is And How To Release It

Tensor Fasciae Latae (TFL) muscle is a long outer hip flexor muscle on the front side of the thigh. The TFL muscle contains a dense bulb-like portion and a long tendon called the IT Band. Read on to learn what the TFL muscle is, how it could be your pain culprit, and how to relieve it.


TFL Muscle Anatomy

What Is The TFL Muscle?

First, we need to isolate what the TFL muscle is and what we are really targeting here. TFL is a hip flexor muscle consisting of a thick bulb and a long tendon, connecting from the outer-upper pelvis to the outside of the knee.

tfl muscle

TFL Muscle - Anatomical Image

The TFL muscle is the outermost of the 5 hip flexor muscles - muscles that contract to bring the knee closer to the chest. In addition, the TFL muscle is a single-leg stabilizer - meaning it keeps us balanced while standing on one leg.

Where Is The TFL Muscle?

To feel the TFL muscle, reference the image below and feel for a tough, dense muscle. While standing and holding your thumb in this position, slowly shift your weight side-to-side to feel the TFL contract and relax. When your weight is on the side of the TFL you are feeling, the TFL muscle will be hard. When your weight is shifted to the opposite leg, you should feel the TFL soft and relaxed.

TFL Muscle Location

TFL Muscle Location - The Thumb is in the TFL here

What Does The TFL Muscle Do?

TFL has two primary functions. The first function is hip flexion - i.e. swinging your leg forward and lifting your knee closer to the chest. The TFL muscle uses its hip flexion function while swinging a leg forward during running, lifting a knee to the chest in a marching motion, and kicking a soccer ball.

The second function of the TFL muscle is single-leg stability - in other words staying upright while on one leg. Without the TFL muscle, you would fall over immediately when you stand on one leg.


TFL Muscle Pain

Pain Pattern Of The TFL Muscle

Now for the gnarly stuff - TFL muscle pain. The TFL muscle can be a source of an aching pain pattern in the outer hip, thigh, and knee (see the bright red in the image below). This pain is often labeled IT Band pain in the hip, hip flexor pain, runner's knee, or some other phenomena. If you are experiencing the bright red pain pattern below, the TFL muscle is definitely worth inspecting.

TFL Muscle Pain Pattern

TFL Muscle Pain Pattern [1]

TFL Muscle Pain Triggers

The TFL muscle can become tight, aggravated, and trigger-point-ridden via two common mechanisms: 1) too much physical activity (especially running) that the TFL is not conditioned or recovered to handle, and 2) too much time spent sitting, which is a shortened TFL position.

The first TFL muscle pain mechanism of too much physical stress on the muscle is more popular among athletes, particularly runners and soccer players. These two sports tax the TFL muscle a ton due to their excessive use of the TFL muscle while a) swinging the leg forward and b) standing on one leg. When the TFL muscle is overused past its conditioning/capacity, trigger points and tension can develop and force the TFL muscle to tighten and cause pain.

The second TFL muscle pain mechanism is via sitting too much. Since the TFL muscle is a hip flexor, it shortens when you are sitting. Too much time in a seated position without attention paid to stretching and correction can produce a weak, tight TFL that causes pain.


How To Relieve TFL Muscle Pain

TFL muscle pain relief begins with an effective, thorough deep-tissue massage. The goal here is to break up all of the constant tension, knots, and trigger points in the TFL muscle causing it to be a tough, tight band. Make sure to massage in the right location (see image below), and aim for 2 minutes of deep tissue work on each side for 2 sets for optimal release.

TFL Muscle Massage Location

To perform massage/release, you can visit a trained physical or massage therapist or use a TFL release tool at home like QL Claw (or try your luck foam rolling TFL). QL Claw is hands down my favorite TFL release tool because it is sturdy, tough but giving, and a therapeutic material. Use QL Claw to release your TFL muscle anytime, anywhere - watch how to in the video below:



Own your TFL muscle pain once and for all. Check out QL Claw (our favorite TFL muscle release tool) at the link below - your hips will thank you!



Hip Pain After Running


TFL Muscle FAQ:

How To Stretch The TFL Muscle:

Prior to stretching, it is important to massage the TFL to physically eliminate any angry knots, trigger points, and rigid tension in the muscle. After massage, the TFL will be susceptible to lengthening through stretching exercises like the Couch stretch and ATG split squat.

What Does The TFL Muscle Do?

The TFL muscle is a hip flexor and a hip stabilizer. As a hip flexor, the TFL swings the leg forward during running and kicking. As a hip stabilizer, the TFL supports you while standing on one leg - with no TFL muscle you would tip over.

How To Find TFL Muscle:

Use your thumbs to feel for the TFL, and follow the illustrations in the images above for reference.

How To Release Tight TFL Muscles:

Massage with a purposefully made TFL release tool, or visit a professional physical or massage therapist.

How To Strengthen TFL Muscle:

Activities and sports on your feet naturally strengthen the TFL muscle. In addition, strengthening exercises like side planks, single-leg deadlifts, and skater hops can engage the TFL in the gym.



[1] Donnelly, Joseph M. Travell, Simons & Simons Myofascial Pain and Dysfunction: the Trigger Point Manual. 3rd ed., Wolters Kluwer Health, 2019.

[2] Davies, Clair, and Amber Davies. The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook: Your Self-Treatment Guide for Pain Relief. 3rd ed., New Harbinger Publications, Inc., 2013.

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