People often ask me what areas I massage most – back? legs? neck and shoulders?
Well, yes – all of those are frequently in need of releasing, stretching and rebalance, but to be brutally honest the most common area I deal with is the ‘Glutes’.
Our ‘sit-upon’ is home to these powerful muscles, that move our legs in running, walking, dancing etc., enable us to stand from sitting and support the spine when upright. The only time these muscles are at rest is when we are sitting on them!
So – perhaps you can see where I am going with this – even the most active of us sits rather a lot these days – I have a very active job, except when I am sitting at my desk – as I am at the moment!! Even those who walk around a lot all day have a tendency to sit down in between tasks or travelling to and from work, we sit down when we eat and often when we drink.
None of this will be news to you, but what might be news to you is the numbers of relatively active people who are engaging in all manner of busy lifestyles, sports and fitness regimes, but have sleepy glutes! – To be specific, despite all manner of effort the gluteus maximus is either late or absent in firing – the muscle has become lazy and doesn’t engage when needed. When this occurs the human body (because it is truly marvellous) still functions and other muscles take over. In the case of the gluteus maximus this is usually the erector spinae muscles – the ones that are primarily for maintaining an upright spine and the hamstrings whose primary function is flexion of the knee!
This can cause a number of secondary issues:
The lower section of the erector spinae group becomes tight and can cause dysfunction and discomfort in the lumbar region
As above, but in addition, this can encourage a tilt of the pelvis, resulting in lordosis (exaggerated curvature of the lumbar spine) and worse still, possibility of disc degeneration and nerve root impingement.
Hamstrings can become overloaded and be more prone to strain and tears, which can cause extra tension in the calves.
The gluteus maximus and the opposite latissimus dorsi (situated in the mid back, waist to lower shoulder blade) work together to provide tension and stability to the Sacroiliac Joint (SIJ), this joint is where the sacrum (the fused section at the base of the spine) and the innominate bones (the winged shaped bones of the pelvis)meet. More of this later.
Recurrent problems with lower back, legs, knees are often accompanied by dysfunction of the muscles of the buttocks and this area will need treatment in order to resolve the problem.
The SIJ, however is an interesting issue, say for example the right gluteus maximus stops engaging and the erector spinae and hamstrings provide the necessary movement, firstly these secondary muscle groups are likely to become injured or compromised in some way. But also if the gluteus maximus is no longer strong enough to provide sufficient tension across the SIJ the opposite latissimus dorsi may become overworked, resulting in both mid/upper back pain but also in an unstable SIJ which is then far more prone to injury – the joint can become slightly misaligned causing pain during running, walking and standing.
It is for these reasons that I often find myself teaching clients to consciously engage their gluteus maximus. To test the strength of yours – try:
Standing from sitting without using your arms (note whether you use your bottom or back and legs to perform this action)
Stand with one leg extended (slightly outstretched behind you)then using the buttock only get the leg to move slightly (focus on just using the buttock)
Clenching the bottom, without engaging the back first (it will engage but this should be after the glutes have engaged and should be a light secondary tension)
Before you go running off to find lots of ‘Glute strengthening’ exercises, please be aware of this –
If your body is already compensating for non-firing glutes, doing exercises to strengthen them, before you have practised engaging them will only exacerbate the problem as your back and thighs get ever-stronger and your glutes ever-weaker and non-responsive.
Strengthening is good, but it will only help if you are actually using the muscles that the exercise was designed to focus on. My advice to clients is to constantly clench and release the buttocks so that in time, they will engage when needed. Consciously engaging your buttocks when walking can also be a good exercise. There are many reasons why muscles groups become ‘lazy’ and stop firing, most of which have to do with our 21st century lifestyle. But if you are suffering from a recurrent low back or thigh issue I would urge you to get your glutes checked.
Hope this has been helpful, til next time, Tracy