Are you sitting down? You may want to stand up before you read this.
We all know that sitting for long stretches of time can cause health problems ranging from increased blood pressure, high blood sugar levels, leg problems, brain fog, back pain, muscle strain – even cardiovascular disease and cancer.
But a sedentary lifestyle can also cause “gluteal amnesia,” also known as “dead butt syndrome.”
Sounds like a joke, right? It’s not. Gluteal amnesia causes a loss of strength and function in the muscles we rely on to walk/run, carry heavy items, climb stairs, and maintain an upright position. When your glutes forget how to work properly, other parts of your body try to compensate. The result can be pain in your lower back, hips and knees. Your ability to balance and move easily can also be affected, which can lead to further pain and potential injuries.
Know Your Glutes
Your glutes are a set of three muscles: the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius and gluteus minimus. Sitting a lot results in tighter hip flexors, and your body tries to compensate by lengthening your gluteal muscles. Over time, the lengthened muscle becomes desensitized, loses its elasticity, weakens and is unable to respond effectively to stimulus.
Wondering if you have gluteal amnesia? Try this: Lie down. face up, and put your hands under your butt. Clench each butt cheek. If you can’t feel your glutes kicking into action, you may have gluteal amnesia. Or get a Trendelenburg test done; you’ll be asked to stand and lift one leg in front of yourself. If your pelvis dips down on that side of the body, your glutes on the other side of your body aren’t as strong as they should be.
Treating Gluteal Amnesia
The good news is that dead butt syndrome is reversible. Yes, you can resurrect your butt! But working out may make the condition worse. While exercise is always better than sitting on your (dead) butt, repetitive exercise such as running or cycling can also result in tight hip flexors. Athletes with very strong quads or hamstrings can develop dead butt syndrome, and will need a targeted exercise routine to bring their butts back to life.
In the meantime, there are things that you can do to reactivate your butt muscles or prevent dead butt syndrome:
- Stand up, stretch and have a short walk every few hours (or more frequently, if possible).
- Stand up straight, then flex (clench) those glutes as hard as you can for a count of five. Release and repeat 10 times – do this throughout the day whenever you can, and your glutes will thank you.
- Talk to a personal trainer about exercises that can strengthen your glutes. He or she may advise squats, glute bridges, or lying down leg lifts. Stretching routines that target the hips, thighs, lower abdominals are helpful too.
- Change your routine. If you’re a serious athlete who is fully focused on your sport, make sure to diversify your workout. Add swimming, aerobics, yoga or other activities that work the muscles your sport doesn’t actively engage.
- If you don’t work out yet, find ways to move your body and keep it guessing. Stand up during the day. Pace around when you’re talking on the phone or checking your email. Walk to your colleague’s desk rather than pinging them. Take the stairs. Eat your lunch while taking a stroll.
And if you’ve been living a sedentary lifestyle, you obviously need to check in with a fitness expert and/or health professional before you start doing squats and sprints around the block. Yes, this is the standard advice but it’s important to get help. You can easily injure yourself if you start exercising too hard, too soon.
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