Out of all the problems that might affect people who spend long hours in a sitting position, it is the funnily-named (but quite common) Dead Butt Syndrome (DBS) which can eventually turn out to be very painful and debilitating. DBS is also not exclusive to people who live a more sedentary life. It can also happen to active people who fail to utilise their glutes during exercise of any kind, but is more common among inactive people.
DBS gets triggered when something called ‘reciprocal inhibition’ fails—the term means the relationship between the joints around a muscle. “In general, when one muscle contracts, a nerve signal is sent to its opposing muscle to relax. When you spend hours on end in a seated position, your hip flexors are contracting while your glutes rest. Over time, your glutes become weak. The same type of muscle imbalance can happen in highly active people who have very strong quads or hamstrings,” states a health.com article titled Dead Butt syndrome Is One More Reason You Shouldn’t Sit All Day. Even runners can develop DBS, it adds.
The syndrome is also known as gluteal amnesia, given that the gluteus medius muscle goes into a kind of hibernation when not worked out. The resulting domino-effect can range from suffering lower back and hip pain to knee and ankle pain, as the body compensates for the imbalance of a major muscle not functioning as much as it should.
There are a couple of ways to test whether you are suffering from DBS. The first is the Trendelenburg test which is used to diagnose hip dysfunctions. There are two types of tests: a standing one, and a gait test. A paper titled Trendelenburg Sign, published by the National Library of Medicine, defines the standing test as one in which the patient stands on the affected leg, or on the side where the weakness is, for up to 30 seconds.
“The provider stands behind the patient at the hip level and places their hands on the iliac crests on either side of the pelvis observing to see if it stays level during the single-leg stance. Repeat the test on the opposite side. A positive Trendelenburg sign is when the pelvis drops on the unaffected side,” the paper says. The idea is to avoid this positive test.
The gait test is also interesting, in which one has to walk a short distance with a physiotherapist observing. “In a normal gait, the body shifts the weight to the stance leg, allowing the center of gravity to shift as well, which stabilizes the body. When [a patient] lifts the unaffected leg, the shift does not occur; therefore, the patient is unable to maintain balance, leading to instability,” the paper adds.
Other ways to predict the possible onset of DBS is to check the curve of the spine. The lower back should ideally form an S-shape and any extreme curvatures should be seen as a sign of weak hips.
Let’s say there are signs of weak glutes, then what does one do? The main idea is to mix it up not just in the gym, but also at work. Stand up and work on a countertop, sit in different positions with a mindfulness of posture, and strengthen and stretch the hips to keep them from going to sleep. When strengthening, don’t ignore the muscles around the hips: the hamstrings, the quads, the adductors, the calves, and the ITBs. When doing any bodyweight exercise, or any lift for that matter, including something as simple as a bicep curl, check to see if your brain can activate the glute.
Some basic exercises can help you with this. Physio Fitness has a video with three exercises which will help you with this, and they are all so simple they can be done at home or anywhere, with the added challenge of a resistance band if needed.
Doing these exercises before working out or through the day will make sure your glutes are activated for the stresses the body will go through. You might not be able to do lying down exercises in the office, so Athlean-X has you covered with a video which has a standing and lying down version for some excellent glute work which will also strengthen your ITBs and adductors.
Apart from these, working the hips at the gym, and while running, is vitally important. When you get up next morning, or get off your office chair, remember to wake up your glutes too.
Pulasta Dhar is a football commentator and writer.