Gluteal Amnesia: Funny Name, Serious Problem
You read that right – your glutes (gluteus maximus) may have amnesia. For my clients who sit much of the day, it’s more the norm rather than the exception, and there’s a good chance that you’re suffering from it too!
The phrase “gluteal amnesia” was coined by Dr. Stuart McGill in reference to low back pain patients who don’t use their glutes effectively, as if the muscles simply forgot how to work. Now, bad glute function could be a result of low back pain or a cause of it….maybe some of both. However, even in the absence of low back pain, weak glutes will influence movement, diminishing exercise results and increasing risk of injury in various places.
This is a bigger deal than it may seem. Remember the kid’s song, “Leg bone connected to the knee bone…?” That’s pretty much how bones and joints work; in a fully integrated kinetic chain. Each piece influences other pieces in the system. The glutes are important muscles. If they don’t do their job, other pieces have to do more than they’re supposed to do. In the short term, that kind of compensation isn’t such a big deal, but over time this leads to trouble.
Glutes tend to go dormant slowly but steadily under “normal” conditions. Seemingly innocuous activities like sitting or standing for long periods can leave them listless and apathetic. For example, sitting for hours creates tight hip flexors, and that tightness inhibits the glutes. If you have a job that puts you in a chair for much of the day and you spend a fair amount of time commuting in a seated position, your glute function is probably suffering. Simply not using the muscles enough can do the same thing. Adults don’t tend to sprint and jump the way they did when they were young (two activities that require strong glute participation) and an underused muscle withers over time.
Luckily, restoring glute function is not very complicated. Breaking up periods of sitting into shorter stints helps. In your local fitness center, roll and stretch the hip flexors to calm them down. Then simple activation / strengthening exercises will bring the glutes back on line. Here’s what the first part of that might look like:
Foam roll this…
Then stretch these…
Stay tuned for my post in the How-To series for glute activation exercises!