Did you know that a lot of uncomfortable and painful conditions are caused because the muscles in your bum/buttocks are not being used, or if they are, they are not being used properly?
The proper term for this group of muscles is the ‘Gluteal muscles’ and because they are in the centre of your body they are like the glue to stick the top half of your body onto your bottom half and vice versa and so its vital that these muscles are in good working order.
The Gluteus Maximus muscles are gigantic muscles (as is highlighted on the right in the top photo) and the action of these muscles is to extend and laterally rotate the hips.
For instance, the Gluteus Maximus is in action when a footballer is about the kick a football and they are moving their leg backwards in preparation for this.
Studies have shown that they also play a massive role in stabilising the important Sacroilliac joints while going through the gait cycle (for instance when walking or running).
John Gibbons the renowned Osteopath and Remedial and Sports Massage Therapist wrote a whole book on this subject!
The Sacroilliac joints are the big joints on the hips and when they are not functioning properly, they can cause lower back pain. There has been positive tests to prove this.
About 98% of my clients have Glute muscles which are weak, underused and aren’t firing properly when they first come to see me.
When a client comes in with low back pain, Sports and Remedial Massage Therapists can do a postural assessment and some tests to find out if the Gluteal muscles are weak, and in my experience, I’ve rarely had a client who hasn’t got weak Gluteal muscles. That also goes for extremely fit people.
We can then help to get the muscles functioning in the way they should be through techniques applied in the session and by giving clients practical advice such as stretching and strengthening exercises that can be done in their own time after the treatment.
So, why are Gluteal Muscles often Weak?
The muscles that do the opposite action from the glutes (the antagonistic muscles) are often tight to compensate for the weakness in the glutes.
There are a few reasons for this dysfunction and one reason is because muscles work in pairs and when one muscle is working, the opposing (antagonistic) muscle isn’t.
Some muscles naturally fire more easily then others and therefore it’s important to work at strengthening the muscles (such as the glutes) that don’t fire so easily.
Another reason why we can have weak gluteals is because of lack of movement, poor posture and sitting down for long periods of time. I will explain this in a bit more detail later on.
Tonic (Postural) and Phasic Muscles
The neuromuscular system is made up of ‘slow-twitch’ and ‘fast-twitch’ muscle fibres with some muscles containing more ‘fast-twitch’ fibres and some having more ‘slow-twitch’. Slow-twitch fibres are made for sustained low-level activity and fast-twitch fibres are for powerful, gross movements.
The Gluteal muscles contain more fast-twitch fibres and its opposing antagonistic muscles contain more slow-twitch fibres. The Gluteal muscles therefore need to be used more but it is often the opposing muscles that get over worked and that goes for a lot of fast-twitch and slow-twitch muscle types.
The reason behind this is partly thought to be because muscles are also split into being ‘tonic’ (postural) muscles and ‘phasic’ muscles. The Glute muscles are phasic muscles and their antagonistic muscles are postural.
Postural muscles are involved in the maintenance of our posture and are innervated by a smaller motor neuron. They therefore have a lower excitability threshold, which means the nerve impulse will reach the postural muscles before the phasic muscles. With this sequence of innervation, the postural muscles will inhibit the phasic muscles which will reduce the phasic muscles potential for activation.
For example, this is why muscles in your neck, calves and upper back (upper trapezius muscle) are commonly sore and tight, as they are predominately classed as Tonic (postural) muscles.
So, what Muscles are Antagonistic to the Glutes?
The muscles that do the opposite action of the Gluteal muscles are the hip flexors. These are often painful, tight and overused on people.
One of the most important hip flexor muscles, if not the most important in my opinion is the ‘Psoas Major’.
These muscles are attached to a lot of bony landmarks and that’s partly why they are important muscles because they are relied on a great deal for movement and strength. They can be difficult to locate but fully qualified Sports and Remedial Massage Therapists will be able to locate them.
The Psoas Major is activated also when we are sitting down and so when we sit down for long periods of time these muscles can become tight and sore and this can therefore cause the glute muscles to become weak which can cause us to experience low back pain.
How would you Know if it’s a Muscle Imbalance that’s Causing your Back Pain and Not Something Else?
Sports and Remedial Massage therapists will be able to help you to find out what the cause of your pain is. We will conduct a thorough case history and then do tests and a physical assessment if need be.
One of the questions we will ask you is what does the pain feel like for you in order to try and determine the cause. For instance if the pain is to do with soft tissue (muscle) you would most likely be experiencing a dull ache and the pain would be worse on movement.
If the pain is to do with a nerve you would feel a sensation like pins and needles and maybe numbness and weakness.
If you do have nerve pain symptoms we will refer you to your GP or to another professional to get it diagnosed and assessed. But if you have soft tissue or muscle pain as well then we usually are able to carry on with the treatment with caution.
We will ascertain if we can proceed with the treatment after we have undertaken a through assessment.