The Gluteus Maximus Muscle is the largest and the outermost of the gluteal muscles. It stretches from the sacrum and coccyx, parts of the spinal column, down to the femur. The other gluteal muscles include the gluteus minimus and medius. They each have a role in the normal function of the hips and legs. They are prone to tightness resulting in soreness, aches, and pain around the hips and in and around the buttocks.
The Gluteal/Rear End Muscles
There are three rear-end muscles:
- The Gluteus Maximus extends the hip and rotates the thigh outwards, straightens the legs when moving, and provides strength.
- Gluteus Minimus
- Gluteus Medius
- The minimus and medius are underneath the Maximus and stabilize the hip when:
- Other physical activities
There is another group of diagonal muscles under the gluteus minimus that attaches to the femur. The uppermost is the piriformis that is attached to the sacrum. The sciatic nerve and major arteries run below it.
Tightness and Irritation
The primary function of the muscles is to open the hips and push the legs out. Sitting for long periods shortens the gluteal muscles causing them to become tight, limiting normal hip function. The gluteal muscles are susceptible to tightness brought on from overuse and lack of development/strength. This can develop into tender/tight muscle bands that interfere with the normal function of the muscles. To get an example of what is happening imagine flexing and contracting one of the bicep muscles 6-10 hours a day. It would be extremely sore, tight, and tender.
Sports and Physically Active
Athletes and individuals that are physically active can also have tight gluteal muscles. This can cause post-game/exercise muscle soreness. Intense activities force the gluteal muscles to work overtime to support the back and knees. Sports that require a lot of leg muscle activation include:
- Weight training
Awkward Walking Gait
Individuals that move with an unusual gait are vulnerable to straining the muscles. What happens is the muscles become stiff from the awkward positions/postures. This places additional strain on the back and hip muscles and worsens their overall posture. The hip muscles are also attached to the pelvis, and when the muscles begin to tighten they can pull on the gluteal muscles. Irritation of the sacroiliac joint can also place pressure on the piriformis, causing spasms that affect the gluteal muscles. Piriformis muscle spasms can also place pressure on the sciatic nerve, causing sciatica.
Diagnosis and Treatment
An examination will be necessary to diagnose whether the soreness or pain is due to muscle inflammation or other cause. Sciatica symptoms and problems at the hip level that involves the gluteus minimus and medius can be felt in the leg. The examination includes seeing and feeling muscle reactions, responses, contractions through a series of motion exercises and movements that involve different muscles. Common treatment includes:
- Range of motion exercises
- Strengthening exercises like bridging and resistance bands
- Deep tissue massages
- Heat and cold packs
- Physical therapy
- Electric muscle stimulation
Tightness in the glutes can be managed with chiropractic treatment. This includes:
- Soft tissue work
- Spinal joint manipulation
- Lifestyle adjustments
- Health coaching
Simple exercises can help engage and strengthen the muscles. These include:
- Donkey kicks
- Clam exercise
- Crab walks
- Self-myofascial release with a massage ball can be used to roll out the tension.
Individuals that sit for long periods of time, don’t get enough physical activity, and have an unhealthy diet can experience insulin resistance. This happens when insulin is not able to transport excess blood sugar out of the blood and into the muscles. A study found that women who sat for eight hours a day had an increased chance of developing diabetes. Diabetics can be inclined to have more fat within the body, specifically visceral fat. This further encourages insulin resistance. Diabetics also experience rapid loss of muscle mass as they age, intensifying symptoms and further affecting body composition.
Cochrane, Darryl J et al. “Does short-term gluteal activation enhance muscle performance?.” Research in sports medicine (Print) vol. 25,2 (2017): 156-165. doi:10.1080/15438627.2017.1282358
Coratella, Giuseppe et al. “The Activation of Gluteal, Thigh, and Lower Back Muscles in Different Squat Variations Performed by Competitive Bodybuilders: Implications for Resistance Training.” International journal of environmental research and public health vol. 18,2 772. 18 Jan. 2021, doi:10.3390/ijerph18020772
Distefano, Lindsay J et al. “Gluteal muscle activation during common therapeutic exercises.” The Journal of orthopedic and sports physical therapy vol. 39,7 (2009): 532-40. doi:10.2519/jospt.2009.2796
Kalyani, Rita Rastogi et al. “Age-related and disease-related muscle loss: the effect of diabetes, obesity, and other diseases.” The lancet. Diabetes & endocrinology vol. 2,10 (2014): 819-29. doi:10.1016/S2213-8587(14)70034-8
Selkowitz, David M et al. “Which exercises target the gluteal muscles while minimizing activation of the tensor fascia lata? Electromyographic assessment using fine-wire electrodes.” The Journal of orthopedic and sports physical therapy vol. 43,2 (2013): 54-64. doi:10.2519/jospt.2013.4116
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