Gluteal Amnesia: Funny Name, Serious Problem
You read that right – your glutes (gluteus maximus) may have amnesia. For my clients who sit most 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. Now, bad glute function could be a result of low back pain or a cause of it….maybe some of both. But, even in the absence of low back pain, weak glutes will influence movement, which diminishes exercise results and increases risk of injury.
Bones and joints form an integrated kinetic chain and each link has the power to influence other links. Depending on the movement, that influence can be strong. If the glutes don’t do their job, the chain starts to break down and other pieces have to take up the slack to compensate. In the short term, that isn’t necessarily a big deal, but over time this leads to trouble.
Glute function tends to diminish slowly but steadily under “normal” conditions. Sitting or standing for long periods over the course of weeks and months can leave them listless and apathetic. In fact, sitting for hours at at time leads to tight hip flexors, which affects the glutes through altered reciprocal inhibition. Basically that just means tightness on the front of the hip diminishes function on the back of the hip. Ultimately, it leads to inefficient movement and accumulating problems.
If your job 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 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 should bring the glutes back on line. Here’s what the first part of that might look like:
Foam roll this…
Then stretch these…
Don’t forget to check out my post on glute activation exercises!