Gluteus maximus! Kind of sounds like an ancient emperor doesn’t it? It  IS an emperor of sorts, as it dominates  your buttocks. Made famous by colloquial expressions and Sir Mix A Lot, the gluteus maximus is one of the three gluteal muscles responsible for support and movement of your  hip joint. It originates at the posterior aspect of dorsal ilium posterior to the posterior gluteal line, posterior superior iliac crest, posterior inferior aspect of sacrum and coccyx, and sacrotuberous ligament, spans across  your backside, to insert primarily in the fascia lata at the iliotibial band on the outside of your thigh and into the gluteal tuberosity on the posterior femoral surface.  It is the most superficial muscle of the gluteal group and protects the muscles that laterally rotate the hip, notably the piriformis, under which the sciatic nerve makes its appearance.

gluteus_maximus220

The gluteus maximus is a powerful hip extensor and spinal stabilizer.

The largest muscle in the human body is said to have developed to allow homosapiens to run after their next meal or maybe it was to avoid being another animal’s meal? It is a powerful hip extensor, acting in synergy with the hamstring muscles to propel the body forward when running.  Furthermore, it also acts as a spinal stabilizer in conjunction with the erector spinae to control trunk function at the hip and sacroiliac joint. According to a study by David Lieberman,  it is the most active as running speed increases. You are more likely to “feel the burn” chasing the bus or playing tag, than you are going for a leisurely jog.

Dysfunction in the gluteus maximus can show up as coccyx (tail bone) pain when lowering yourself to sit down or rising up from a seated position as the  muscle stretches and contracts, pulling on the coccyx.  Adhesions to the gluteus maximus also affect the mobility of the muscles it covers, which can lead to the dreaded piriformis syndrome, where the sciatic nerve is irritated or compressed, causing numbness and pain deep into the buttocks. Further irritation can also degenerate into often debilitating sciatic pain.  No doubt this is where the expression “pain in the butt” originated!

Another way Gluteus maximus dysfunction can appear is through IT band syndrome.  If I had a dollar for every time I walked into a fitness facility and saw athletes rolling out their IT bands…. Well, I wouldn’t be too worried about my yoga pants addiction.  If I had a dollar for the times I observed athletes working on strengthening their gluteal muscles in isolation,  I may be able to afford a small non-fat sugar-free decaffeinated lactose free no foam extra hot latte, with a hint of cinnamon.

 What does the gluteus maximus have to do with your knee pain?

Weak glutes and hip dysfunction are often the culprit behind patellofemoral syndrome, Achilles tendinitis, and iliotibial-band syndrome, according to Reed Ferber, Ph. D., director of the University of Calgary’s Running Injury Clinic. “Inadequate hip muscle stabilization is a top cause of injury in runners,” he says. “The hips need to be strong to support the movement of the feet, ankles, and knees.”

The gluteus maximus and gluteus medius attach to your IT band, Ferber explains. When these muscles contract, they pull on the IT band and keep your hips and knees aligned.  However, weak glutes can be a cause of knee pain: if these muscles aren’t strong, your hips and knees can twist. This triggers the IT band to rub over underlying tissue and cause pain on the outside of your knee, he says.

In 2007, Ferber conducted a study of 284 patients who complained of leg pain and found that 93 percent of them had weak hip muscles. 93 PERCENT!!!! Even if you don’t have gluteus maximus pain, pain in your legs or in your hips, or if you suspect gluteus maximus dysfunction, get out your Roll Model® Therapy balls and join me on Friday for the next installment of this article,  One Less Pain in Your Butt, and learn some self care techniques for the hips.

References

  • Suzuki, David – The Nature of Things – The Perfect Runner (Documentary) http://www.cbc.ca/natureofthings/episodes/the-perfect-runner
  • Lieberman, D.E., Raichlen, D.A., Pontzer, H., Bramble, D.M., Cutright-Smith, E., (2206) The Human Gluteus Maximus and its Role in Running, The Journal of Experimental Biology, June 1 2006, 2143-2155
  • Ferber, R., Kendall, K.D., Farr, L., (2011) Changes in Knee Biomechanics After a Hip-Abductor Strengthening Protocol for Runners With Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome, Athletic Training, Mar-Apr 2011, 46(2), 142-149

Enjoyed this article? Read Gluteus Medius – Your Posterior’s Unsung Hero

Genevieve Herzog

A fellow teacher suggested Yoga Tune Up when he observed how sad my Happy Baby was. A self-proclaimed gym rat, I had ignored my mobility until my lack of it was staring me in the face, or in my case, in the hips. I was hooked from my first class, and knew immediately I wanted to share my knowledge with others. As an occupational therapist, I have seen how chronic injuries, and complacence with pain as "part of the aging process" can impact daily activities. Yoga Tune Up® has provided me with further tips, tools, and techniques that I take great pleasure in sharing with others, empowering them with the knowledge required to move better in their bodies, building healthy habits that last a lifetime. The Level 1 Teacher Training also inspired me to continue with a 200 hour Yoga Teacher Training which will help deepen my practice and knowledge of Yoga Tune Up®.

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Alissa Trepman

Loved the anatomical descriptions here on glute max function and dysfunction, as well as the relationship to knee pain– really made me think. And hah!–point well taken in your IT band syndrome paragraph! Astounding, though not ultimately so surprising 93% of the folks in that leg pain study had weak glutes– and a great statistic to carry in our back pockets (though not to the detriment of our glutes, 😉 ). Awesome post @Genevieve, thank you.

Kristi Ablett

I love that this article relates gluteus maximus to the whole body as it affects so much more than the hip and bringing attention to a part of the body so many of us are disconnected from.

Sheila

Wow 93% of study participants having leg pain was caused weak hip muscles! That’s amazing! Thank you for this informative article.

Cindy Côté

What I remember: The gluteus maximus is a powerful expander of the hip and a stabilizer of the spine.

jan hollander

Currently doing research for my ytu teacher trainer course essay about my on gluteus maximus and other pain due to the work that .
I now know what my problem is thanks so much for your article.

Amanda Stoker

I am part of the 93% that has dealt with weak glutes and knee pain and it’s no wonder! As a culture, we sit for a major portion of our lives. Getting the butt in gear is so important for our joints. Thanks for bringing it all together!! If the glutes are weak they won’t create the correct amount of tension on the IT band. Brilliant! Our inner connectivity is amazing! I will no longer laugh at the girls that take pics of their butts and put then on Instagram. Instead, I’ll think “You go with your healthy knees and… Read more »

lauren

so much great info, thanks!