We’ve all experienced that situation where we are so engrossed in our work that we forget to stand, walk, or otherwise move around.
In such a case, you will likely have experienced a problem commonly known as Dead Butt Syndrome (DBS). Clinically, this condition is called gluteus medius tendinopathy. It is also often loosely referred to as gluteal amnesia.
The condition results from the gluteal (or butt) muscles essentially “forgetting” their main purpose, which is supporting the pelvis and keeping your body in proper alignment.
DBS may sound funny and harmless, but you need to be aware that this odd-sounding condition can lead to other problems if not taken seriously. The gluteal muscles can become neurologically inhibited, weaken and don’t activate when they should.
This causes other parts of the body to bear additional stress as they try to substitute for these muscles, which potentially results in injury. Problems that arise as a result of gluteal amnesia include tightening of the hip muscles, hamstring injuries, lower back pain and injuries to the cartilage in the knees.
For fitness buffs out there, it also decreases your performance in sports like tennis, badminton, weight-training, cycling or running.
Doctors often diagnose a “dead butt” by using the Trendelenburg test. This is a physical exam where a person lifts one leg in front of them while standing.
If you see the pelvis dip downwards on the side of the body where the leg is lifted, that indicates weakness in the gluteus medius muscle on the opposite side. A curve in a person’s back can also indicate gluteal amnesia.
While the lumbar spine should form an S shape naturally, a more pronounced curvature may be because your hip flexors are so tight that they’re pulling the spine forward.
You may consult a sports medicine specialist or an orthopaedic surgeon to evaluate your symptoms before getting started on a treatment programme. The doctor might order an X-ray or MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) to rule out other potential conditions.
However, do note that these types of imaging tests aren’t especially effective for diagnosing DBS. After reviewing your symptoms and medical history, your doctor will examine the areas experiencing pain and stiffness.
You’ll be asked to move or stretch your legs in different positions and share the changes in symptoms.
The good news is that you can prevent DBS quite easily. Try to take frequent breaks from your chair throughout the day. Get up and walk around, or do some stretching.
Set hourly reminders on your phone to prompt you to squeeze your butt muscles at regular intervals ~ some smart watches already have that function set up automatically.
You can also work your glutes without even leaving your chair. Sit up straight and tall with your shoulders subtly pulled back and hold your abdominals tight.
Gently tuck your tailbone and squeeze, then and flex, one butt cheek at a time for five seconds. Alternate your cheeks, repeating 10 times per cheek.
And when you work out, don’t forget to target the back of your body. Leg lifts while lying down are a good move to add to your routine, apart from bridges and squats.
For additional resistance, add a band or ankle weight. The best way to avoid gluteal amnesia is to vary your daily routine. Spend some time standing up by working at a high countertop or elevating your laptop by placing it on top of a small table or stool on your desk.
You can also switch from sitting on your regular chair to sitting on a large exercise ball throughout the day. Basically, don’t allow your body to get into a rigid and repetitive cycle.
Here are some other exercises that can help to either prevent or alleviate DBS:
> Side plank clamshell thrust
Prop yourself up on your right side on the floor with your right elbow directly under your shoulder. Your knees should be together and bent backwards 90°.
Other helpful exercises
Pushing down through your forearm, lift your hips up from the floor so that your body is in a straight line, as you squeeze your glutes. As you do this, separate your knees by lifting your left knee towards the ceiling, while keeping your heels together. Release and repeat 12 to 15 times before switching sides.
> Rainbow taps
Get on all fours on the floor, with your knees under your hips and your wrists under your shoulders. Keeping your spine in neutral position and engaging your core, extend your right leg straight behind you.
Engage your glutes as you lift your right leg up and over your left leg to tap the floor with your toes next to your left leg. Then move it back in an arching motion, but no higher than hip height, to the far right, tapping your toes on the floor again. Repeat 15 to 20 times before switching sides.
> Glute bridges
Lie face up on the floor with your arms by your side, palms pushing into the floor and knees bent with your feet hip-width apart on the floor. Lift your hips straight up towards the ceiling by gently tucking your pelvis and driving your heels into floor. Squeeze your glutes as you do this. Lower your hips, then repeat 15 to 20 times.
> Tabletop hip adduction
Get on all fours on the floor, with your knees under your hips and your wrists under your shoulders. Keeping your spine long and engaging your core, slowly lift your bent right leg up and to the right until about hip height, then lower it back to the floor. Repeat 15 to 20 times before switching sides.
Keep it moving
You can bring your “dead butt” back to life with proper exercise and treatment, and keep it that way for a long time. Take the time to move throughout the day while adding prevention exercises into your weekly workout routine, and you may never have to encounter this problem again.
Interestingly, people who run a lot are at a higher risk of DBS if they spend too much of their non-running time at a desk. The strain of distance running, or any strenuous exercise, can be too much for muscles and tendons that go long periods in the same positions.
So, if you’re a serious runner, you may want to talk with a sports medicine specialist on how to manage this issue. It may indeed not only help you to prevent DBS, but also improve your running performance. Your glutes and hip flexors will definitely thank you!
By Datuk Dr. Nor Ashikin Mokhtar
Published in Star Newspaper, Apr, 19, 2021