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

Gluteus Medius in an upper butt muscle 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 is often mistakenly 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 Muscle - Glute Medius Pain

Gluteus Medius Muscle

 

Gluteus Medius Anatomy & Function

The Gluteus Medius muscle can be described as an upper buttock muscle, the pocket of the hip, or the highest part of the butt that has meat. Gluteus Medius lies underneath a portion of better-known Gluteus Maximus, and lies superficial to (lies on top of) lesser-known Gluteus Minimus [2].

Gluteus Medius functions in hip abduction, or swinging the leg to the side of the body. Gluteus Medius is also very important in stability while standing, playing sports with lateral movements, running, and standing on one leg.

To feel Gluteus Medius work, stand on one leg without using the hands to balance. If standing on your right leg, your right Gluteus Medius will be contracting to prevent you from tipping to the left side. 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, rear belt-line, glutes, and outer hip. The image below is from Travell & Simons work (the most exhaustive muscle pain books ever written), and 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 will generally feel like nagging low back pain and pain along the upper buttock region. This pain can be brought on by a single event such as lifting a couch, but also can occur gradually from performing physical activity at a high volume. After Gluteus Medius is tight and causing 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, 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 overarching issue with Gluteus Medius pain is the knots, tightness, and trigger points in the muscle. This is causes constant tension in the muscle, and pulls the pelvis posteriorly out of place. With tightness and trigger points present, stretching is near impossible and strengthening does not fix the constant tension [1].

To release the Gluteus Medius muscle, a lacrosse ball or a targeted tool like QL Claw can be used. I'll only ever use QL Claw for this because it takes the guess work out of the equation - you just sit with your tailbone on the ramp and let your leg fall onto the trigger (portion that does 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 for a few minutes a day for 3 consecutive days.

Gluteus Medius Release

Gluteus Medius Release Using QL Claw

Step 2: Stretch

After smashing the Gluteus Medius tissue, you will be able to stretch the muscle back to its normal (or even extended) length. One stretch that works really well is the Pigeon Stretch. Another more moderate stretch can be done 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)
  • Fire Hydrants
  • Clamshells
  • Standing on one leg with a neutral pelvis
  • Running

 

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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