I’ve always been active – and now as I reflect back, I’ve also always had trouble with my knees, hips and feet. It was something I never really thought about until my 200 hour Yoga Teacher Training two years ago when I was injured on day two during a Tadasana intensive. Tadasana. Standing up straight and aligned.
I was born with hips that were internally rotated and wore leg casts as an infant. As a toddler, I wore shoes with a bar across the soles to keep my feet and legs from turning in. My younger years (5-10) were spent in ballet classes where teachers would try to correct “my turned-in legs”. I didn’t help. Eventually, I left ballet (yay!) and went about pursuing other sports. As I grew up, there were repeated visits to the orthopedic doctor; severe shin splints, slipped kneecaps, various strains and sprains all followed up with physical therapy and finally orthotics – custom made inserts for my shoes – all before the age of 12. I had extremely high arches, weak ankles, and my knees continued to turn in towards each other. I also had a lovely party trick: I could (and still can) pop my femur head out of its socket. I used to think it was amusing, now I know it’s a sign of weakness and misalignment.
Fast forward 35 plus years… A year or so prior to my teacher training, I was beginning to have hip pain again. I was becoming aware that my right knee was starting to turn in more and my standing poses were becoming increasingly more difficult and uncomfortable (especially on the right side). As an avid jogger, I was no longer able to jog without pain. I continued my yoga classes becoming more and more aware of my legs and hips, trying consciously to correct them by turning my inner thighs forward so my knees would face forward.
After an extremely intense practice on Day 2 of my Teacher Training, we split up into groups for a deep study of Tadasana, also known as Standing Mountain Pose. The teacher was trying to get me to center my knees and engage my outer thighs. Wanting desperately to please, I did what she said, even though my hips and knees were feeling uncomfortable. As a result of her instruction, as I looked in the mirror, I saw completely aligned legs – hips, knees, ankles all in one beautiful line – a sight absolutely uncommon to me. We worked for at least 10 minutes and my body was exhausted.
As we broke for lunch, I sat down, extended my right leg, and KA-POW! Pain, like I’d never experienced before, shooting from the right knee up to my hip and down to my foot. I stood up, tried to put weight on my leg and couldn’t. I had no strength. It was weeks before I could walk or sit with out pain. I went to a great chiropractic body worker. No real diagnosis – overstretched ligaments, he thought. As I continued treatment, he came to realize my bigger problem was an extremely weak gluteus medius. It seemed the glute medius was asleep on the right side and the neural pathway was severely undeveloped.
This was the introduction to, and the beginning of the relationship with my gluteus medius.
Sandwiched between the gluteus minimus and the gluteus maximus, the gluteus medius shares actions with both of these muscles.
The glute medius lies on top of the glute minimus and is covered in part (posterior 2/3) by the gluteus maximus. This medium sized muscle originates on the outer surface of the ilium and inserts into the lateral aspect of the greater trochanter – the knob like protrusion at the top end of the femur bone, our “hip bump” area.
Primarily, with all fibers contracted, the gluteus medius, abducts the hip, lifting the leg out to the side. The anterior fibers, when engaged, medially or internally rotate the hip and the posterior fibers are responsible for hip extension and external rotation.
The gluteus medius is active when climbing stairs, running, cycling, swimming, skating, dancing and many other activities. This lovely muscle is also a main stabilizer of the hip for the above actions, as well as one-legged standing poses in yoga like Virabhadrasana III, Standing Splits, and Vrksasana.
When inflamed, it can cause pain, swelling and tenderness on the outside of the hip, limping when walking or running and weakness, just like I was experiencing.
After my pain started to subside, I had to learn how to awaken my gluteus medius, especially on my right side… Enter Yoga Tune Up!
Come back on Friday to find out my favorite Yoga Tune Up® exercises to awaken and strengthen my gluteus medius.
Enjoyed this article? Read Get That Lazy Gluteus Medius In Gear!
Injuries in yoga teacher trainings are very popular. I’m glad (?) that in this case the injury lead you on a path to wake up dormant areas, like your gluteus medius. And ultimately, lead you to Yoga Tune Up®. Thanks for sharing your experience in such a positive light. Healing from injuries really is inextricably enmeshed with loving one’s self enough to find the tools that empower our bodies. You’ve inspired me to check-in on my own glute med muscles! Woohoo.
Great article! I am working to become more aware of the entire pelvic region/muscles and bones alike. I found your article very informative and I am excited to read about what YTU poses you have practiced to improve your pain level.
It is amazing that we may feel pain or dysfunction in other areas as you described by having hip pain, limping or weakness. We are often misled by the wrong diagnosis. Very important information. Thank you for sharing.
I appreciate your post on glutes medius – I’m trying to tune into it by walking more mindfully, looking for full engagement on both hips. No more running until I balance both sides. It’s a journey…
Erin, great article! I too had internally rotated hips as a child but thankfully that improved as I got older.
I’m also a runner and coach and pay close attention strengthening my and my runners gluteus medius.
About your inflamed gluteus medius, what do you think caused inflammation? The misuse of running with your hip internally rotated? Or could the pain have been from another overused hip stabilizer in the hip region that was picking up the slack for the weaker gluteus medius, such as the TFL. Just curious.
Thanks for the article!
Thanks so much for your article,I am on a gluetes discovery tour at the moment finding out more about how work and stress affect them and the whole body with it
That makes sense! Thanks for sharing with us.
Thank you for sharing this…… as a fellow runner with recurring hip pain after my long runs – I was advised to have a gait analysis done. Result was that I had very lazy glutes – in fact I would say they were comatose. Strengthening work plus YTU balls have been my saviour too.
Thank you for sharing your story! It’s yet another wake-up call for lots of us, yogis, who often overlooks strength importance in pursuit of suppleness.
This post resonated so personally with me! I also have significant internal rotation at the hips, although not as severe as your case, as mine went unnoticed until my 200 hr RYT training this past winter. I know that our fascial matrix is an interconnected web and that a pattern of movement in one area of the body will show up in another area, but it is so validating to hear about another person experiencing all the same anomalies – high arches, weak ankles, the ability to pop my femur out of its socket. I hadn’t considered these characteristics as habits imprinted on my tissues until I began to look at anatomy and consider concepts such as mechanotransduction. Granted, some things are skeletal and hereditary, but it’s wonderful to realize that much of our pain can be countered with a little (applied) knowledge. Thank you for highlighting the relevance of the gluteus medius. I look forward to reading your suggestions for strengthening this important muscle.
Love this glute cheat sheet! A very concise and accessible explanation of a very important, and often under-utilized, muscle.
We definitely need to pay more attention to glute med in yoga. It’s really underutilized a lot of the time in traditional yoga classes. Thanks for sharing your story.
Thank you for sharing! It was also an “A-ha!” moment for me when I realized that my tension in the hip joint was also coming from my glute med and by rolling and putting some pressure on it, I am noticing a much freer range of motion in the outer hip area. Still ways to go, but on my way:-)
That was a fascinating story, thanks for sharing. I experienced a need to strengthen this muscle on myself just yesterday. I think my maximus has been doing more of the work than it should. I am going to read further to find out which are your favorite exercises for this. I have been using Tree pose as a way to strengthen mine.
great article! tricky muscle and so important to keep it both lengthened and strengthened. Good luck.
This is a wonderful introduction into exploring muscles of the “glutes” and how they can help save the knees. Thank you for sharing your story. I think that “doing” yoga in our Western culture is strongly affiliated with how things “seem.” Being more concerned with a “pretty posture” can definitely mislead our perception and understanding of how muscles and joints work, ultimately leading to more opportunity for injury. Your post reminds me, as a teacher, the importance of sequencing a class- helping to first identify the different parts and their actions to create a foundation for actual movement.
Thanks for sharing your story. Until reading your article I hadn’t really thought about how involved the gluteus medius is in daily activities. I’m looking forward to checking out some of the exercises in your next post. Thanks!
Great article. I had no idea that gluteus muscles could be inactive despite years of playing sports. I’ve noticed my hips do hurt after running or walking for extended periods, and I’m going to test these hip specific exercises.
I’m very intrigued by the alignment in the legs. As a teacher you see so many different types of bodies and it’s good to know that all joints can’t line up properly in all bodies since our architecture is so different. I have a labrum tear in my right hip and have had to strengthen my glutes with strength training and have learned how important they are to focus on, and challenging to engage when being told to!
This story was so validating! I was born with my femur bones internally rotated and it’s caused me pain in my hips, knees and ankles my whole life, but particularly while I was growing. My parents just called me pigeon-toed and let me get on with it, but now trying to do any kind of physical activity means I have to negotiate my femur bones. Are there any other muscles besides your gluteus minimus that you had to strengthen significantly for hip stability? Thank you so much for posting this!
je suis contente de lire cet article. je me suis aussi blessée au genoux suite a trop d entraienment et un moyen fessier trop faible par apport a mes quad. actuellement je suis la formation en yaga tune up apres avoir décider de travailler différemment comme entraineur et de me tourner plus vers le yoga plutôt que la performance. j ai choisi le tune up entre autre car on traite beaucoup avec les douleur et les blessures. c est encouragent de voir des gens avec des situations semblable 🙂
Thank you for sharing your story Erin. By discovering your blind spot, you will help so many others that also suffer from gluteal amnesia or on the contrary. YTU poses are amazing in that no matter what your physic or personal background, blind spots will surely appear and the tools needed to address those blind spots are delivered.
Thanks for sharing your vulnerabilities – so sorry for your painful experience! I guess that is why every pose is an assessment pose, even and especially tadasana – but I hadn’t thought it could show so much. I, too, have lazy glutes (chicken or egg question in my ACL tear) from overusing quads, etc. in soccer, hockey, and basically every other form of activity that I do, bent over also shortening and tightening the psoas. Great reminder to be sure to get some rising moons and warrior III into every day!
Great article Erin. My fave YTU exercises are the half moon rises, prasarita lunges activating gluteus medius to initiate movement after spending some time rolling on the classic and/or alpha balls.
Fascinating. I spent the first few months of my life in casts to straighten my bowed legs. I have wondered how much that may have affected my current body. I’ve always been immensely tight and I wonder if it is partly due to the fact that when I should have been able to kick and move my legs, I had heavy weights attached to me. Fortunately, I think all muscles weaknesses are due more to lack of stretching for years and muscle imbalances from misuse.
A good body practitioner is key and you are lucky you found one to help diagnose you, combined with the knowledge to “fix” yourself!
Interesting path to your discovery. Fortunately, I don’t have pain, but I have also come to realize how certain yoga postures I am having a hard time with are a result of a weak glute medius. Hip abduction and balancing postures don’t come easy to me. I am looking forward to trying some of the exercises in your next blog post.
Wondering about a tight pisiform is, which I know I have. Does this have to be addressed before I can effectively
Wake up the glut med?
Wow, you made me feel like I was right there with you on day 2 of your teacher training. How scary! I too have more internally rotated hips and struggle, especially on the right side, with external rotation and abduction. Sometimes I get a little searing feeling if I abduct too far in external rotation, and thanks to your article, think it might be my gluteus medius. Your experience is a good lesson for me to not overdue it. My physical patterns have taken shape over years and I can’t correct them in a day. Looking forward to your follow up YTU exercises on Friday!