Dead Butt Syndrome
Sitting for long periods of time is not great for your body. Research has linked it to heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and cancer. But did you know that sitting can cause gluteal amnesia (aka Dead Butt Syndrome)? Dead Butt Syndrome (DBS) develops when the gluteus medius (one of the three main muscles of the butt) stops firing correctly. This can happen if you spend too much time sitting in a chair, sitting in your car, or sitting on the couch. But it can also occur in active individuals who don’t engage the glute muscles enough. You might never have heard DBS but it is fairly common. Physical therapists see the injury regularly in varying degrees.
The gluteus medius normally helps stabilize the pelvis. If it isn’t working correctly, DBS can result in lower back pain and hip pain, or even knee and ankle pain, as the body tries to compensate for the imbalance.
DBS has to do with reciprocal inhibition which is the process that describes the give-and-take relationship between muscles on either side of a joint. In general, when one muscle contracts, a nerve signal is sent to its opposing muscle to relax. When you spend hours on end in a seated position, your hip flexors are contracting while your glutes rest. Over time, your glutes become weak. The same type of muscle imbalance can happen in highly active people who have very strong quads or hamstrings. Even marathon runners can develop DBS.
How do you know if you have Dead Butt Syndrome?
One way practitioners pronounce a butt dead is with the Trendelenburg test, a physical exam in which a person lifts one leg in front of them while standing. “If the pelvis dips down on the side of the body where the leg is lifted, that indicates weakness in the gluteus medius on the opposite side.
The curve in a person’s back can also suggest DBS. While the lumbar spine (or lower back) should naturally form an S shape, more extreme curvature may signal that the hip flexors are so tight they’re pulling the spine forward.
What can you do to avoid Dead Butt Syndrome?
The basic answer is keep your glutes strong. To do this, take frequent breaks from your chair throughout the day by walking around or doing stretches at your desk (e.g. squeeze your butt muscles at regular intervals). To keep from forgetting, set hourly reminders on your phone.
When you exercise, don’t forget to target your behind. Along with squats and bridges, lying-down leg lifts are a good move to add to your routine. Start on your left side with your right leg lifted and the big toe pointing toward the floor as you lift. This angle isolates the gluteus medius and minimus muscles the most, so you’ll feel it within 10 to 15 lifts of the leg. Add a band or ankle weight for extra resistance.
Above all, the best way to avoid DBS is to mix up your daily routine. Sit on an exercise ball for part of the day. Spend some time standing at a countertop while you work. Watch TV while doing leg lifts. Whatever you do, mix it up and don’t get into a repetitive cycle.