What’s the Big Deal with ‘the Glutes?’
You might have heard a friend or two say they’ve ‘pulled a glute muscle’ (or may have yourself) – but what exactly does this mean? The gluteals (or ‘glutes’ as they are affectionately known here in Oz), are the most powerful muscle group in the body. The four all-important gluteal muscles (see below) help to stabilise, strengthen, and mobilise the hip region; supporting us everyday to walk, maintain posture and optimal balance in all activities.
Gluteal muscles are part of the posterior chain, which includes all major muscles at the back of the leg and spine (such as the hamstrings and calves). They work together in unison to support our peak performance. The glutes are especially active when squatting, lunging, running and jumping. They also play a major role when changing directions and landing from a jump. (InSync Physio, stack.com)
What Causes Gluteal Strain?
Common reasons for gluteal strain are:
- Lower back injury
- Overuse (which results in tightness and build up of trigger points and referred pain)
- Pelvic instability (eg after pregnancy)
- Muscle weakness, particularly in the piriformis and gluteal muscles
- Dormant muscles, which are less powerful and more injury-prone
- Muscle tightness, especially in the gluteal, piriformis and adductor muscles
- Poor core stability
- Poor hip joint flexibility
- Inappropriate and excessive training, including inadequate warm ups
- Poor biomechanics
- Muscular imbalances (one side of the body is disproportionally stronger)
Gluteal strains are graded from mild to severe, so it’s best to visit a doctor if you are having difficulty moving your hip to determine the exact cause and best treatment. For example, another cause is piriformis syndrome, where the piriformis muscle spasms and causes buttock pain. (InSync Physio; Eclipse Therapies; Spine-health)
What does a Gluteal Strain Feel Like?
A sharp and sudden ‘pain in the butt!’ is usually felt when the strain occurs. Pain is felt immediately after and may reduce over time. However, pain is likely to be felt during activities such as jogging, using the stairs, jumping, and sometimes walking.
Other symptoms include:
- Pain and stiffness after activity, especially in the morning after activity
How to Treat Gluteal Strain
Stretching and strengthening the gluteal muscles are the two most important principles for treatment of gluteal strain. This can be done by visiting a physical therapist, and also by practising movement exercises at home. Isometric exercises with resistance bands will often be incorporated into this stage of recovery in order to challenge the muscle while promoting regeneration of healthy tissue.
The most important thing is alignment, so being aware that your spine is neutral while sitting and standing throughout the day, helps the gluteal muscles heal. Mueller Sports Medicine, also outlines some fantastic stretches, including a variation of the bridge yoga pose to help get you started as well:
“Knee and Glute Stretches: … lie on your stomach and then bend your left leg at the knee. Squeeze your glute there and raise the knee off the ground for 60 seconds. Make sure that you don’t overdo it…”
Bridges: There are a few different bridge-related options you can use for improving your gluteal muscles. For example, there’s the one-legged bridge where you keep your heels close to your glutes and put your arms on either side of your body. Then, you lift your leg and straighten it while keeping it aloft. Next, you push your hips upwards with your other heel. This will contract your glutes as well as your hamstrings. Again, it’s important to not push it too much if you’re overly injured and your glutes aren’t ready yet. There’s definitely going to be a balance between making sure the glute doesn’t atrophy and pushing it too hard to the point of over injury.
The bridge is wonderful as it also impacts the hamstrings which are part of the powerful posterior chain (including the calf muscles as well).
If you are experiencing symptoms of gluteal strain, first visit your GP to assess the underlying causes, then on the advice of your GP visit your physical therapist for targeted relief, and an ongoing treatment plan (including home exercises between appointments). A single appointment will most likely provide immediate relief but there is no magic bullet for chronic aches and pains. Long term improvements will happen only with ongoing therapy and an active treatment plan.
Book an appointment with an experienced therapist today on 03 8598 9804 or online.