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Gluteus Medius Pain - What It Feels Like And How To Fix It

Gluteus Medius pain is a nasty muscle pain phenomenon that has the potential to wreak havoc on the low back, upper glutes, and outer hip. "The gluteus medius is at the top of the list of the many muscles that cause low back pain" [1]. Gluteus Medius pain is often overlooked as the source of brutal low back and glute pain. Read on to determine if Gluteus Medius is causing your pain and how to fix it.

Gluteus Medius Pain Video

 

Gluteus Medius Pain Anatomy & Function

The Gluteus Medius is an upper buttock muscle. It is located in the pocket of the hip, or the highest part of the butt that has meat. Gluteus Medius lies underneath the better-known Gluteus Maximus, and lies on top of the lesser-known Gluteus Minimus [2].

Gluteus Medius Muscle - Gluteus Medius Pain

Gluteus Medius Muscle

Gluteus Medius functions in hip abduction; or swinging the leg to the side of the body. Gluteus Medius keeps us upright when standing on one leg, so it is important in many physical activities. Gluteus Medius is active in most activities on the feet, including:

  • Playing sports with lateral movements
  • Running
  • Standing on one leg.

To feel Gluteus Medius work, stand on one leg without using the hands to balance. When standing on your right leg, your right Gluteus Medius contracts to prevent you from tipping to the left. You should feel a muscle engaging in the upper-side buttock area - see the anatomy image above for reference.

Since Gluteus Medius is crucial in single-leg stability, it tends to be very well developed in runners and athletes who play sports with lateral movement (tennis, basketball, hockey, etc.). Gluteus Medius also works hard when lifting objects, and can become strained if the load on the muscle exceeds its capacity. It is for this reason that Gluteus Medius pain can arise in untrained persons trying to "do too much" while playing a sport or lifting an object.

Gluteus Medius Hip Abduction

Hip Abduction - A Function of the Gluteus Medius Muscle

 

Gluteus Medius Pain Patterns & Symptoms

Gluteus Medius Pain Patterns:

The Gluteus Medius muscle has the capacity to refer a gnarly amount of pain to the low back, glutes, and outer hip. The image below is from Travell & Simons work, which contains the most exhaustive muscle pain research ever conducted. It depicts in bright red where pain caused by Gluteus Medius can arise on the body. 

Gluteus Medius Pain Chart Travell Simons

Gluteus Medius Pain Patterns [2]

Gluteus Medius Pain Symptoms:

Gluteus Medius pain generally feels like nagging low back pain and pain along the upper buttocks. This pain can be triggered by a single event such as lifting a couch, but also can occur gradually from performing physical activity over a long time. Once Gluteus Medius is tight and in pain, staying on your feet for too long can be very uncomfortable.

Additional Gluteus Medius pain symptoms:

  • Flattened low back (loss of natural lumbar curve) - caused by a hyperactive, tight Gluteus Medius
  • Pain from standing or walking for hours at a time
  • Pain while lifting or carrying objects that¬†should be easy
  • Discomfort walking, climbing stairs, and running [2]

 

Gluteus Medius Pain Relief

If Gluteus Medius pain is present, there are 3 steps to relief. Perform them in order, and do not leave any of them out.

Step 1: Deep Tissue Massage

The root cause of Gluteus Medius pain is the knots, tightness, and trigger points in the muscle. This causes constant tension in the muscle and pulls the pelvis posteriorly out of place. With tightness and trigger points present, stretching is extremely difficult. Strengthening does not fix the constant muscle tension or pain [1].

To release the Gluteus Medius muscle, a lacrosse ball or a targeted tool like QL Claw can be used. I will only ever use QL Claw for Gluteus Medius release because it takes the guesswork out of the equation. To use the QL Claw you just sit with your tailbone on the ramp and let your leg fall into the massage. Make sure to smash any tender tissue in this muscle on both sides of the body. We need to break up all knots and tightness for effective relief. Perform massage for a few 2-4 minutes a day for 3 consecutive days.

Gluteus Medius Pain Release

Gluteus Medius Pain Release Using QL Claw

Step 2: Stretch

After smashing the Gluteus Medius tissue with massage, you will be able to stretch the muscle back to its normal (or even an extended) length. One stretch that works well is the Pigeon Stretch. Here is another more moderate stretch you can do while sitting in a chair: Place one ankle on the opposite thigh. Lean forward or pull the leg to the chest to feel a deep stretch.

Step 3: Strengthen

Gluteus Medius pain usually happens in the first place because it is weak. A strong, flexible Gluteus Medius is armor against low back pain and that is what we want to build from here out.

Here are a few effective Gluteus Medius strengthening moves:

  • Hip Abductions (standing or laying)
  • Single Leg Deadlift
  • Fire Hydrants
  • Clamshells
  • Standing on one leg with a neutral pelvis
  • Running

 

Additional Gluteus Medius Pain Resources

The Gluteus Medius muscle is not the only one that can cause pain and problems in the lower back. If the steps above do not solve your problem, I recommend looking into other muscles like the Quadratus Lumborum (QL) and Iliacus. Similar to Gluteus Medius, both muscles can refer pain directly to the lower back when tight. Save this page and check out these resources next to own your pain for good!

 

 

Sources:

[1] Davies, Clair, and Amber Davies. The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook: Your Self-Treatment Guide for Pain Relief. 3rd ed., New Harbinger Publications, Inc., 2013.

[2] Donnelly, Joseph M. Travell, Simons & Simons Myofascial Pain and Dysfunction: the Trigger Point Manual. 3rd ed., Wolters Kluwer Health, 2019.

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