With every step its presence does grow
It will become a legendary foe
The dead butt gnaws at its neighbors
Making them cry and scream no!
For they soon will feel the wrath
That dead butt will bestow
Scary, huh? (And I don't mean the forced rhyme scheme) Dead Butt Syndrome is a general term for when the glutes become deactivated and non-functional. There are no scholarly articles describing Dead Butt Syndrome and its causes, but it is well-known in the healthcare community, and is believed to be pervasive.
It’s shocking that a dead butt threatens its neighbors; and no, this isn't a reference to a butt malfunctioning in a way that affects the noses of the people around it. Rather, it's the neighbors inside the body that are at risk. The moment the glutes fall into a sleepy state, the body should prepare for the worst – the risk of injury increases not only for the close neighbors like the knees and low back; rather the risk increases for the entire body.
The most common cause for glutes go to sleep is excessive sitting, a bad habit ingrained in our culture. We learn to sit still in elementary school and every stage of life reinforces that lesson. Unfortunately, sitting tightens the hips making it hard for the glutes to stretch.
The glutes are designed to stretch 3-dimensionally – specifically, they stretch via hip internal rotation, adduction and flexion. Sitting tends to reduce our ability to internally rotate and adduct at the hips, meaning we lose the ability to stretch our glutes through two planes of motion – this is a huge loss of potential and kinetic energy.
The second common cause for glutes to go to sleep is the body outsmarting itself. The human body is great at conserving energy and finding easy pathways to move through. Most people workout using primarily the forward and backward plane of motion (sagittal plane). Workouts involving jogging, biking, rowing, squatting and lunging tend to require very little motion in the side to side (frontal) and rotational (transverse) planes of motion. This makes the glutes happy because they find it easy to take a nap and let other muscles do the work for sagittal plane based activity. Conversely, when we ask our bodies to move in the frontal and transverse planes, our glutes find it very hard to play dead.
There is an argument that moving in the transverse plane, especially at the hips, is more dangerous (in terms of injury potential) than movement in other planes. But movement in that plane may also be the most important type of movement for injury prevention and successful motion. Inability to move through the transverse plane at the hips (or inability to move through any other plane), risks creating excessive, compensatory motion elsewhere. The results of this compensatory motion can include a huge list of scary injuries: ankle sprains, ACL tears, disc bulges, rotator cuff strains, the list goes on and on.
If you want to avoid the silent stalker hiding on your backside, threatening to destroy the rest of your body, it’s not a bad idea to make sure your hips can move through and control all 3 planes of motion. Speak with your physical therapist about safe ways to introduce frontal and transverse plane based exercises into your workouts and develop a progression for participation in sports and activities like ultimate frisbee, soccer, tennis, dance or volleyball. Functional glute exercises will be posted shortly!
Dan Benson, DPT, OCS, FAFS, CAFS, 3D MAPS
CEO Forefront Physical Therapy
Nike Golf Performance Specialist
Forefront Physical Therapy
South Lake Union
2720 4th Ave Ste 115
Seattle, WA 98121