Teach Me

Dead Butt Syndrome: Why Your Butt Hurts from Sitting

Do you sit in front of a computer all day, spend long hours behind the wheel or crash on the couch in front of the TV at night? If so, you could be setting yourself up for a real medical condition with an unusual name — dead butt syndrome. 

It’s also called gluteus medius tendinosis, lower cross syndrome or gluteal amnesia. Whatever you call it, the symptoms are the same — numbness, pain or discomfort that can range from a dull ache to sharp pain in your buttocks, hips or lower back, usually when you’re sitting or standing up from sitting. Untreated, it can lead to long-lasting pain and problems with mobility.

While you’ll usually find dead butt syndrome in people who sit for a long time, it also occurs in people who do a lot of repetitive movements, like runners and cyclists, especially if they don’t cross-train.

What causes dead butt syndrome?

Jared Hoffmann, a physical therapist with Banner Physical Therapy, said that a key part of the problem is that people have trouble finding or engaging their gluteal muscles: “It’s not that the muscles are dead. It’s that they’re hard to find.” That’s because people tend to support themselves with their lower back muscles rather than their core muscles leading to increased compression on the lower back.

He shares an example of an easy muscle to find — your biceps in the front of your upper arm. Since you use your biceps a lot your brain has good control of this muscle. You can probably easily squeeze one bicep to 25%, 50%, 75% or 100% of your full strength. But can you do that with your glutes? 

“If you never use your glutes, that brain-to-muscle control is not very good. This lack of control makes your glutes feel like they are either on or off, leading to you over engaging or not engaging at all,” he says.

Plus when you sit for a long time, your glutes can become weak or deconditioned which leads to muscular imbalances, especially if you don’t get much physical activity. Imbalances strain your glutes, making them more likely to be injured. 

Tight hip flexors, which are also common if you sit a lot, can make the problem worse. Plus, sitting compresses the glutes and reduces blood flow. 

If you’re a runner, cyclist, rower or horseback rider, repeatedly straining your glutes without enough rest and recovery can also lead to dead butt syndrome. 

What can you do to manage dead butt syndrome?

Hoffmann says learning to engage your glutes is important, so your brain learns to find those muscles. Yoga and Pilates are good options. You can also try a pelvic tilt, where you lie on your back on the floor with your knees bent and flatten your back against the floor by tightening your abs and tilting your pelvis or “tucking your tail.”

“Sometimes, you might think you’re doing an exercise correctly, but you fall into your poor movement patterns or compensations,” Hoffmann said. If you’re not sure how to engage your glutes and core, a physical therapist or personal trainer can help.

Here’s what else can help prevent or treat the condition:

  • If you sit a lot, take frequent breaks, even if you just stand up and stretch. Even better, take short walks, do some light exercises or practice a few yoga poses.
  • Consider switching between a sitting desk and a standing desk.
  • Get regular physical activity, such as walking, swimming or joining group fitness classes.
  • Strengthen your gluteal muscles with exercises like squats, lunges, hip thrusts and lateral leg raises at least two to three times a week. Using resistance bands or weights can help your muscles get stronger.
  • Regularly stretch your hip flexors, quadriceps, hamstrings and gluteal muscles. You may also want to improve your mobility and reduce stiffness with foam rolling or yoga.
  • Be sure your chair supports your back and keeps your spine aligned. Adjust its height so you sit with a neutral spine, and you’re not slouching. You may want to use a lumbar support or a seat cushion.
  • Use good posture and engage your core and glutes whether you’re sitting, standing or exercising. “Engaging your core and glutes fixes so many issues,” Hoffmann said.
  • If it’s overuse from exercise that’s causing your symptoms, mix in more cross-training, strengthening and stretching.

If you make these changes and you’re not seeing your symptoms improve, or if your discomfort interferes with your day-to-day activities, talk to a health care provider. You might have underlying issues that need treatment. 

Your provider can evaluate your symptoms and medical history, recommend imaging studies and suggest a treatment plan. Treatment could include physical therapy, medication or other options. 

The bottom line

When you spend lots of time sitting at a desk, driving a car or crashing on the couch, or you perform repetitive exercises like running or cycling, you could develop dead butt syndrome. 

That’s when you have numbness, discomfort or pain in your gluteal muscles, hips or lower back. Strengthening your core and glutes and taking breaks from sitting can help prevent or treat the condition.

If you need help learning how to strengthen your muscles or you’d like to connect with an expert to help treat your pain, reach out to Banner Health

Other useful articles

Fitness Orthopedics