Updated: Nov 5, 2021
Did you know that there are roughly 306 muscles in the human body? Every movement uses muscles! Have you ever wondered how tight muscles affect your daily living and movement? Join us each month as we dive into different muscle groups and learn together the ins and outs of the body's muscle structure.
This month, we will be talking about the gluteal muscle group. Whether sitting, walking, jumping, or just standing in line at the store, this group of muscles, as well as being the biggest, is also one of the most used. This group of muscles include gluteus maximus, the largest muscle in the body, gluteus minimums, gluteus medias, tensor fascia latte, and the piriformis. Besides adding stability to daily movements such as standing, the gluteal muscles, or glutes, are responsible for movement and stability of the hip, specifically moving the hip forward and backward (extension and flexion).
Why Work Glutes?
Now that we know a little bit about where the glutes are and what they do, let's talk about pain; particularly pain in the lower back and legs. In a blog about glutes, why talk about the legs and lower back? Did you know that the gluteus maximus actually starts at the ilium (upper hip bone) and curves around to the upper leg (at the IT band and greater trochanter)? Besides attaching to the ilium, the glute maximus also attaches to a thick band of fibers, or fascia in the lower back called the thoracolumbar fascia. So, if the glute muscles are tight, odds are, they will pull on the structures of the hip and lower back, often causing pain or discomfort.
Now that we have established a few of the common areas of discomfort that could be linked to the glutes, lets talk a little bit about muscle pain patterns. When a muscle experiences a stressful situation such as an unexpected scare, a car crash, or a muscle strain, the muscle gets shorter or contracts to protect the effected area. Sometimes a muscle contraction can continue long after the danger has passed. This continued contraction is often called a knot, or trigger point. The trigger point then sends out pain signals in a unique pattern to that particular spot, resulting in a pain referral pattern that can often reach far beyond the original site of the injury. So, when the glutes get tight, where do they send their signal? The upper legs, knees, and, you guessed it, the lower back.
But don't worry. We can help! And you can too!
What can you do?
(This blog is not a substitute for medical advice. If experiencing pain or an underlying medical condition, consult your medical team before beginning or participating in a new or unapproved activity.)
So, what can you do to help your glutes? Besides regular massage, there are some activities you can do to help ease discomfort from tight or tense tissues. Stretching, resting, and challenging your muscles to do and become in ways that both move your muscles and are enjoyable to you help to improve not only your glutes, but your overall health as well. Remembering to work where it is comfortable and safe for you and working with a medical team as needed is also key to keeping maximum gluteal mobility. Below are a few suggestions to get you thinking:
Looking for something simple?
Stand between activities. Standing, when done correctly, activates the gluteus muscles and stretches both the posas and tensor fascial late (TFL), which can help strengthen the glutes and relieve hip and lower back tension. Simple? I love simple.
At the office most of the day and don't really have time to stretch? Here are a few simple stretches you can do while seated.
Seated Figure -Four stretch:
This stretches glutes and engages TFL and other hip flexor muscles to help ease the fatigue of sitting at the office.
Sit straight in a sturdy chair. Place your right or left ankle on your opposite thigh, just above your knee. Place your hands on your shins.
Keeping your spine straight, lean slightly forward to deepen the stretch.
Hold the stretch for 20–30 seconds.
Return to the sitting position. Repeat with the other leg.
Ready to take it to the next level:
If you're feeling ready to try something a bit more, here are a few ideas:
Seated Glute Stretches
All the benefits of chair stretching without the chair. This stretches glutes and surrounding muscles in a deeper stretch.
How do you do it?
Seated on a yoga mat, blanket, or just the floor, perform the Seated Figure-Four, or Pigeon pose. You may wish to place a rolled up towel or blanket behind you for support.
With the back straight, cross the right or left ankle over the opposite thigh just above your knee.
Bend forward, stretching the hands out in front of you. Hold for 20-30 seconds.
Return to a seated position and repeat with the opposite leg.
How about a stretch for those of us who would rather lay down?
Knees-To-Chest stretch: This stretch assists in stretching glutes and surrounding muscles and is also great for sciatic pain relief! Here's how it's done:
On a yoga mat, blanket, or just the floor, lay on your back with your legs straight and your feet pointed upward.
Bend and lift your right or left knee and place your hands around your knee.
Pull your right knee up toward your left shoulder. Hold the stretch for 20-30 seconds.
Return your leg to the starting position and repeat with the opposite leg.
Feeling pretty good? Ready for a challenge?
Standing Figure-Four Stretch: Just like the Seated Chair Figure-Four and the Seated Figure-Four stretch, this stretch takes the glutes and surrounding muscles to the next level. And it's great for balance.
Here's how it's done:
Stand up straight. Cross your left or right ankle over your opposite thigh, just above the knee to make a 4 shape. Hold on to a desk, chair, or wall for support if needed.
Slowly bend your standing leg at the knee, moving your hips down into a squat position.
Pause for 20-30 seconds when you feel a stretch in your crossed leg's glute.
Return to starting position. Repeat with the other leg.
Downward Dog: A popular Yoga pose, but also a great glute stretcher, this pose helps to relieve tension in the back, glutes, and surrounding areas.
Here's how it's done:
Start in a pushup position, hands shoulder-width apart and legs together. Straighten your body and flex your core (belly and back) muscles.
Move your hips back and up, forming an upside-down V with your body. Slightly bend your knees and place your head between your shoulders, keeping it in line with your spine. Keeping heels slightly raised, lower them towards the floor and hold the stretch for 20-30 seconds before returning to the starting position.
Above are just a few suggestions that are my personal favorites. But they are by no means the only glute stretches. If you liked the stretches and want more, or just aren't feeling those stretches are for you, look up your own. And I would love to hear about your favorite glute stretches or your glute stretching experience. Please send any comments or questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Now that you have journeyed with us through the glutes, pain cycles, and what you can do to help yourself, we hope that you are feeling a little bit more power in taking back your gluteal health. Besides getting regular massage, movement is key to success. So, take what you have learned in stride and we hope to see you back again next month for more muscles and their movements.