The gluteus maximus (aka the glutes) is the single largest muscle in the body. More specifically, glutes refer to any of the three muscles in each buttock which move the thigh and hip, the biggest of which is the gluteus maximus. But, let’s be honest, most people just refer to it as the butt.
Because these muscles are so big and are used in conjunction with other muscles to move our legs and extend and rotate our hips, they can be the source of many types of strain and pain. In addition to slips and falls, which are the most common causes of injuries to the glutes, there are many other issues that can result in buttock pain, including too much vigorous exercise, such as running, or an injury to the hip. However, the number one culprit is too much sitting.
Get off Your Bum
If you’ve ever been on a long car ride, then you know that sitting for hours at a time can be a pain in the buttocks – literally. That’s because sitting for long periods can cause what is known as piriformis syndrome. The piriformis muscle is located in the buttock near the top of the hip joint. It contributes to lower body movement and stabilizes the hip joint. The sciatic nerve runs through the piriformis muscle and down the back of the leg.
When the piriformis becomes tight or inflamed from slouching or sitting in a chair it puts a strain on the low back and compresses the sciatic nerve, which often causes pain in the leg. Because piriformis syndrome involves a nerve, the pain can be sharp, severe, or radiating – telltale signs of nerve pain. In some cases, the pain can be excruciating.
Of course, you don’t have to go on a trip to experience piriformis syndrome. Many of us lead very sedentary lives. Unlike our ancestors who did physical labor and walked miles per day, most of us sit at desks all day and travel in cars. All this sitting, especially with poor posture, can irritate the piriformis. In addition to sciatic pain, you may also experience spasms in the piriformis muscle, which may feel sore or achy – as in “oh my aching butt.”
Symptoms of Piriformis Syndrome
How do you know if you have piriformis syndrome? While the most common sign is pain down the back of the leg and into the thigh, calf, and/or foot, you may also experience:
Numbness or tingling in one leg
Muscle spasms in the buttock
Difficult sitting or putting weight on one cheek
Pain when the hip is moved or rotated
Pain in the thigh or hip when walking
Because other conditions, such as disc herniation or hip bursitis can cause similar symptoms, it’s best to consult your physician or orthopedic specialist to get an accurate diagnosis. In fact, this condition is often misdiagnosed as other types of back pain, so be sure to describe your symptoms accurately and request imaging tests to rule out back issues.
Preventing and Treating Piriformis Syndrome
If you often sit for long periods of time or are prone to back problems, you may be more susceptible to this condition. Taking a few simple steps can help you avoid developing piriformis syndrome, including:
Perform daily stretches that involve the back, hips, and thighs
Take frequent breaks from sitting. You might try setting an alarm on your phone to remind you to get up, stretch and take a walk.
Avoid carrying a wallet in your back pocket, which causes you to sit with one hip slightly raised creating an imbalance.
If you do develop piriformis syndrome, it can be relieved with a combination of pain relievers, muscle relaxants, and alternating ice and heat packs. Again, it’s best to see a physician before trying to treat this condition on your own. Many physicians will also recommend physical therapy to not only alleviate pain, but to prevent future incidents.
Try These Stretches
The key to relieving piriformis syndrome is to loosen the tight muscles that are compressing the sciatic nerve. There are many good stretches that you can do to achieve this, but two of the most effective are as follows:
1. Ankle Over Knee Piriformis Stretch
Lie flat on your back with both knees bent.
Cross your ankle over your opposite knee.
Grab the back of your thigh area behind your opposite knee.
Gently pull your thigh straight toward your chest.
Hold for 30 seconds.
Do this on each side three times, twice a day.
Lie flat on your back with both knees bent.
Contract your core and lift your hips off the floor.
Squeeze your buttocks at the top of that motion.
Slowly lower your hips back to the floor.
Repeat 10 times per set.
Do three sets, once or twice a day.
Use a PhysioBoard
These simple stretches can be highly effective, but what if you have trouble getting down and up from the floor? You could exercise or stretch on your bed, but a mattress does not provide an effective exercise/stretching surface. In fact, the “give” of a mattress can cause improper form and, in some cases, make the situation worse.
The solution is the PhysioBoard. This unique, lightweight yet firm board transforms your bed into an effective exercise surface. Simply place PhysioBoard on any bed and do your exercises and/or stretches as you would on the floor. When you’re done, you can easily store the PhysioBoard behind a door or in a closet – no need for an expensive and bulky exercise table.
Don’t let your inability to get down and up from the floor stop you from exercising or stretching. The PhysioBoard:
Weighs only 11 pounds
Has comfortable foam padding
Comes with a water- and bacteria-resistant cover that is machine washable
Provides a firm surface on any bed
Was designed by a physical therapist and engineer
PhysioBoard has transformed the way people exercise! Read what others have to say about the PhysioBoard: