Are your glutes to blame for your lower back pain?

Apr 22 2020

Almost everyone’s had lower back pain at some point…

It could be an occasional niggle, or an almost constant limitation. But it might not be your back itself that’s to blame for your pain. Glutes and lower back pain are often inextricably linked: let’s go through how, why, and what to do about it.

What are the glutes and what do they do?

Your glutes – your bottom muscles – are made up of three different muscles: gluteus maximus, medius and minimus. As you’d expect, your gluteus maximus is the largest of the three, with medius and minimus being much smaller. But despite their smaller size, these last two muscles are just as important as the larger maximus. All three play a vital role in your daily movement, posture and the position of your lower back and pelvis.

How can glutes cause lower back pain?

If your glutes are either too tight or too weak, your movement and posture will be affected, which can lead to pain. The glutes are so powerful that, as well as feeling this pain your back, you might feel it in your hips, knees or even your feet.

What causes glute weakness and tightness?

There are two main causes of the glute problems that can lead to lower back pain:

  • Too much sitting, usually through working long hours in a desk job, leading to weakened glutes.
  • Overtraining or overwork of the glute muscles, usually through sport, leading to tightened glutes. This can become a long-term, painful problem.

It can be difficult to figure out the exact cause of glute and lower back pain without professional assessment. You might assume your glutes are overworked, but your pain and problems with movement might actually be caused weak glutes leading to pain in the piriformis muscle.

The piriformis helps rotate your hips and stabilise your pelvis. If your glutes are weak, it becomes overactive as it tries to compensate for the weakened glutes. Over time, this means back and pelvic pain, sometimes including sciatica-like symptoms.

How do I strengthen my glutes?

To get your glutes working properly again – and your back pain banished – the first step is to look at mechanical imbalances in your body.

Some muscles will be weaker than they should and others tighter. You might be able to feel which muscles are tight and be doing some stretching at home. This will often help your pain in the short-term. However, unless you combine stretching your tighter muscles with strengthening your weaker muscles, the pain will always return.

As physios, we assess which muscles need targeted strengthening exercises and which need releasing and stretching. This kind of treatment plan can help you live pain-free and achieve your sporting or lifestyle goals.

Strengthening your glutes at home

While you’re spending more time at home and often sitting much more than usual, it’s important to build and maintain your glutes.

We’ve put together a three-part video series explaining why glutes are so important, as well as some exercises, both basic and more advanced, to help you keep unwanted backaches and pains at bay.