What is gluteal amnesia?
Gluteal amnesia occurs when weak bottom muscles aren’t working as they should, which is a problem since they’re the body’s largest muscle group. Virtually every movement carried out by your lower body, including standing and walking, requires their action.
“Sitting for prolonged periods is a major trigger for gluteal amnesia, but it also happens from sleeping on your side in the foetal position,” Piggott explains.
“Staying too long in these hip-compressed positions causes the surrounding muscles to tighten and become restricted. That’s when you can develop muscle imbalances, resulting in hip injuries.”
The early signs
Gluteal amnesia can happen to anyone, but the risk increases with age due to a tendency to sit more and exercise less. When gluteal muscles don’t work properly, they tend to atrophy. “This will almost certainly be a contributing factor for musculoskeletal pain later in life,” Piggott says.
Declining muscle mass also contributes to the appearance of a saggy rear. However, targeted exercises can “wake up” these muscles, helping to reduce pain or injury risk. As with any condition involving muscle atrophy, the longer it remains untreated, the more difficult it is to repair, leading to further discomfort and overall fragility.
“Your body then adapts to working around the pain, resulting in abnormal movement patterns,” Piggott explains.
“Conditions associated with weak glutes often involve the hip joint itself. It could be a muscle or tendon injury, such as tendonitis, involving one of the hip muscles like the hip flexor. Or it could be a glute muscle or a hamstring.”
If any one of these muscles isn’t functioning fully, the others have to work harder to compensate, with wear and tear causing pain.
“If you don’t have full control of your pelvis, your spine will be put in awkward positions, resulting in lower back pain and knee problems, such as osteoarthritis due to the imbalance,” Piggott says.
“Other problems include plantar fasciitis (heel pain) and Achilles tendonitis.”
Reversing gluteal amnesia is possible, but it takes time. Stretching is the best place to start – because it lengthens muscles, allowing them to be used at their maximum capacity – before starting a tailored recovery program.
“It’s not a five-minute workout but using those muscles frequently during the day so you incidentally strengthen your glutes all the time,” Piggott says.
The safest way to make a difference is under the guidance of a trained professional, such as a personal trainer or physiotherapist.
3 exercises to try
Sitting glute stretch
Sit on the edge of a chair and straighten both legs in front of you. Cross your right ankle on top of your left. Slide your right ankle along your shin, bending your knee until your right ankle sits on top of the knee. Let your right knee drop towards the floor. Then slide your right leg back down your left, and bring your feet together. Repeat with other leg.
“You can also do this stretch lying down, which is a bit more gentle,” Piggott says.
Sit to stand
Sit on the edge of a chair with your feet underneath you. Without using your hands, gently lean forward and stand up until you’re completely upright. Then gradually sit back down, using controlled movements both ways. If you do need to use your hands, try to limit their use as much as you can.
“This is a very effective glute-activating exercise, which you can do throughout the day,” he says.
Lie on your side with your feet, ankles and knees together. Bend your legs a little and tighten your core abdominal muscles. Keeping your feet together, squeeze your glutes and lift your top knee up, making sure not to roll your body backwards. Control the movement as you bring the knee back down. Repeat with other leg. Piggott says, “Staying still and lifting only your top leg means you’re activating your glutes.”