Are your glutes causing low back pain?

4 Signs Your Glutes Aren’t Working for You and Why it Matters

I see patients everyday with low back and lower extremity pain and never amazes me that during testing they cannot contract their gluteus maximus.

Here are a few clues that your gluteal muscles aren’t working like they should and what that can mean for you.

1. You have frequent hamstring cramps or strains: When asked, most people will blame dehydration or electrolyte imbalance as the cause for muscle cramps. Research on muscle cramps and hydration is very conflicted, though. One leading theory that has come to light is tissue overload. In the case of the hamstrings, they can be overloaded when trying to make up for lack of gluteal strength. They may fatigue more quickly when trying to play the dual role of hamstrings and glutes. This can lead to cramping and, even worse, muscle strains.

2. You sit for the majority of the day: Let’s face it; most of us use our rear ends for sitting more than for moving. When you are seated you place your glutes in a lengthened position and then sit on them for hours on end. The result is a lengthened, weak muscle that has forgotten how to be the workhorse it was designed to be.

3. You have pain and/or limited range when bending backward: This pain can be due to irritated joints in your back – a common result when your low back muscles have to make up for an under performing gluteus maximus. The gluteal’s job is to extend your hip. When it doesn’t do that effectively, you must use muscles in your low back to extend your back to make up for lack of hip extension. The result? LOW BACK PAIN.

4. You bend with your back when picking things off the ground: Watch a toddler pick toys up off the ground and you’ll see the way we were designed to bend. They throw their butt back, bend the knees and hips, and keep their spine relatively neutral. Fast forward 30 years and for some reason now we are bending over with straight legs and a hunched-over spine. Somewhere along the way we forgot how to bend properly. The most likely reason is because we’ve lost our butts from sitting on them so much, and without a butt it’s really difficult to bend properly.

Gluteus maximus is the largest muscle in your body. If all you are using it for is to sit on, then there is a very large void for other muscles to fill in addition to their own individual functions. For that reason I am always testing glute strength and activation in my patients. If their glutes are inhibited, we start treatment by focusing on gluteal activation exercises. Once they are back online and performing their dominant role, low back pain and lower extremity injuries can be much easier to treat and prevent.