Gluteal strengthening is vital in treating so many leg injuries and physical ailments. Here is why.
First Things First: A basic lesson on Gluteal Anatomy
Gluteus maximus = In other words, the buttocks. It is a very powerful muscle and it not only extends the hip, but also controls for motions like lunges and squats.
Gluteus medius and minimus = These muscles reside on the side of your hip and their action lifts the leg sideways but also controls for collapse of your trunk to the side when you are standing on one leg.
So why strengthen the Gluteal muscles?
1) Because it helps with knee pain.
– It has been shown through numerous studies that bending the hips while doing a squat or landing from a jump significantly decreases knee joint forces, thereby reducing pressure on already-thin or torn knee cartilage.
-Additionally, running gait mechanics studies have shown that weak glutes in runners causes a marked increase in quad use and quad demand for locomotion. This excessive use of the quads could lead to knee joint pain, patello-femoral pain syndrome and quadriceps tendinitis.
-The Gluteus Medius and Minimus are also very important muscles in helping to avoid medial collapse of the knee, or “knock-kneed” gait – both that cause excessive angles at the knee and at the foot that are harmful to soft tissue and ligamentous structures.
2) Because the Gluteus Maximus is a very powerful shock absorber.
– While running, squatting or jumping, bending at the hip and waist allows the forces of landing to attenuate through the large muscle group, thereby reducing the ground reaction forces at the joints that are prone to injury: the ankle, the knee and the spine. People who run and walk with a very stiff-legged gait don’t attenuate this shock very well and eventually end up with stress fractures, plantar fasciitis, and joint pain from excessive landing pressure.
– The glutes, being excellent shock absorbers, can also offload the excessive loading the of calf muscles, which are already heavily utilized during running. This could be very helpful for the long-distance runner who is prone to calf strains.
3) Because trunk stability and strength depends heavily on a stable pelvis, that is bolstered by good glute strength.
– Weak gluteus medius and minimus usually causes not only an excessive pelvic drop but also the trunk to lean over to the side to compensate. This contributes to lumbar facet joint compression and compensatory back muscle activity, thus leading to dreaded back pain.
– Also, the glutes are heavily depended on when performing squats and lifts. Such in the case of picking up a heavy load from the ground, without adequate glute strength one would hinge at the waist to lift. This is dangerous and could exacerbate already-present back pain and may even cause issues as serious as a lumbar disc herniation.
– In sciatic problems, strengthening the Gluteus Maximus decreases work done by the piriformis muscle when walking. This is helpful because the piriformis muscle sits on top of sciatic nerve and relieving tension here would relieve pressure on the nerve.
4) Because a stronger Gluteus Medius will help with IT Band Syndrome.
– IT Band Syndrome is caused by excessive hip adduction (angle the thigh towards the middle) while walking or running. This event is mediated by the hip abductors, namely gluteus medius and minimus.
So how can a Physical Therapist help me strengthen my Glutes?
A Physical Therapist can guide you through the specific exercises needed for your weakness and your pain condition. As you can see, gluteal strengthening is very helpful in various conditions and may be the key in getting rid of your pain. We can design exercises that fit functionally into your activity, be it running, soccer or even doing the laundry. We can also watch and guide you in adjusting your gait mechanics through gait analysis and gait training to bias the gluteal muscles.
– The Science of Running Symposium, CA 2013.
– Tsai and Powers, American Journal of Sports Medicine, 2013.
– Noehren et al, Clinical Biomechanics, 2007.
By Alice Holland, DPT.
Alice’s Google + page.
Doctor of Physical Therapy, Director at Stride Strong Physical Therapy