Chris Gabriel, PT, OCS, CSCS
It’s not as well-known as its companion muscle the gluteus maximus, but the gluteus medius has an important job: to stabilize the pelvis and hips. One of the three major muscles in the buttock region, it also moves your leg into abduction, which means bringing the leg to the side of the body and it has some ability to rotate the leg.
Located on the side of the pelvis, the back portion of the gluteus medius is covered by the gluteus maximus. All of the glute muscles, including the gluteus minimus, work together to provide stability, especially when we are doing things on one leg. Depending on what position the hip is in, they also can help with rotating the hip inward or outward. Without the gluteus medius muscle we would lack stance phase stability when standing, walking or running.
The Backside Story to Dead Butt Syndrome
Gluteal amnesia, sometimes referred to as dead butt syndrome, is a condition where the gluteal muscles become weakened or do not fire properly. Prolonged sitting puts pressure on our gluteal muscles, and also keeps them in a lengthened position. This allows the hip flexors to get tight, and the glutes to be inhibited- less likely to fire properly and work efficiently. Ongoing weakness and hip flexor tightness, if not corrected, can lead to pain and suboptimal movement patterns.
If the weakness is extreme, it may cause a nerve issue and can result in a Trendelenburg gait, where the pelvis on one side drops while the opposite side is bearing weight. This indicates the gluteus medius on the stance side is not strong enough to hold the pelvis level even with basic walking.
Posterior Power: Strengthening the Gluteus Medius
It is important to move and change positions frequently during the day to help prevent gluteus medius issues. Getting up every 20 minutes is optimal. In particular if you work or sit much of the day, you should develop a regular routine of strengthening exercises for the gluteus medius which can include side clam exercises, straight leg raises into hip abduction, side planks, single leg balance activities and step downs. A physical therapist can test your gluteus medius strength and work with you to develop a program to treat or prevent issues created by prolonged sitting.