Do your glutes feel a little flat, numb or even sting a little after sitting at your desk for eight hours? If so, you might be experiencing ‘butt amnesia’. We spoke with the experts about how to bring a little life back to your behind.
‘Butt amnesia’ might sound like a ridiculous term that I just invented, but it’s actually something that’s been circulating around for years under various guises. Ever heard of ‘dead-butt syndrome’? No? Well… you must be surfing a different area of the internet to us.
No matter the term, the whole ‘numb bum’ situation is making a comeback among people in their early 30s – and for good reason.
Since lockdown, we’ve swapped office desks for dining room tables, meeting rooms for comfy couches, and hour-long Tube commutes for a couple of steps at lunchtime. We don’t move around as much, and with most people adopting a hybrid work model, postural issues are slowly becoming part of our lives – to the detriment of our glutes. As you stay still for hours on end, your muscles grow lazy and your butt starts deflating.
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What is ‘gluteal amnesia’?
Amnesia, in the ordinary sense, refers to lose of memory. Glute amnesia refers to this idea of our muscles forgetting how to contract normally.
“With gluteal amnesia, the muscles are working but not to their maximum capabilities,” explains Florence Penny, the physiotherapist behind Flow Physio London. “There are three muscles within our glutes that support us – maximus, medius and minimus. When we stay still all day long, they are left unused.”
Since Covid came along, we’ve been sitting a lot more at the dining room table or on the couch, often without changing position regularly. We don’t pay attention to our posture, slumping the shoulders, rounding the lower back, and disengaging the muscles that stabilise our pelvis into a pain-free situation. We can easily go through days without challenging them, which leads to so-called amnesia.
Penny notes: “When you sit around for too long, you first get receptacle inhibition. It is a body reaction where one muscle tense up and pushes its opponent to lengthen, which results in a struggle for both to perform. Then, your joints can also go out of alignment, and if so, it affects body load transfer, pelvis stabilisation and muscle activation. Finally, there are the hip flexors, which tighten and shorten over time.”
All this combined means that the pelvis slowly loses its mobility and pain creeps in. A lack of glute muscle engagement means that other body parts have to compensate when you finally move around. The nerves running through the lower back, buttcheek and leg become affected and develop a sense of irritation, numbness and a localised stinging sensation in the butt.
In short, sitting all day long ripples negatively onto your bottom area. Amnesia becomes your dull reminder to get up and move.
How does your fitness regime affect your butt’s health?
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Moving your body – to grab a glass of water or walk your dog – should be done every hour to bring some vitality back into your bum. Regular physical exercise is essential too, but there are beneficial and inefficient ways to work out.
Your pelvis has a natural tilt – anterior or posterior – that dictates how your glute muscles respond. When you go for a run, a bike ride or a HIIT class, your pelvis needs to be stabilised to properly activate the glutes. This stabilisation will vary according to your tilt. Unfortunately, when even movement triggers pain and numbness, it is likely that your pelvis isn’t stable and fails to engage the butt.
Along with your pelvic stabilisation, a lack of movement variation can also be to blame for your butt’s pain and amnesia. Phyllis Woodfine, a registered osteopath based in south London, explains: “People like to stick with one physical activity, but this can be detrimental because, on one hand, you might not activate your glute muscles – eg with a sport like rowing – and on the other, you might forget about your pelvic alignment and overwork the wrong muscles.”
“Take professional ballerinas, for example. Their fitness regime means that their piriformis muscle – which runs from the lower spine to the top of the tight – is often overworked, causing buttock pain and the so-called syndrome of ballerina butt.”
So, how do you find out what pelvis tilt and fitness regime combo is right for your butt? Well, both physios and osteopathic treatments can help you determine your postural patterns, prescribe an exercise routine and make hands-on adjustments to counter the pain.
Woodfine explains: “The goal is to bring blood, nutrients and energy back into the soft tissue. Gluteal amnesia means that your lower back area is weak, tight and compressed, so the aim is to stretch, strengthen and rebalance it through a variety of movements.”
Exercises for relieving numbness
Butt pain and amnesia can be soothed efficiently with both the help of experts and a variety of movements done at home. Pilates workouts are one of the best ways to counter interact sitting down all day because they allow your body to balance between its three planes of movement – sagittal, frontal and transversal.
Pilates requires you to intentionally strengthen, stretch and stabilise your body in the most gentle way. You can do it while sitting on your couch, in your PJs or watching Netflix. “When you’re at your desk or at home, sit straight and squeeze your buttcheek as hard as you can for 10 seconds. Then release. You can repeat it a couple of times, and even lift one foot off the ground as you’re squeezing. It will activate your glute muscles, and the best part is that no one will notice you’re doing it,” says Lottie Maynard, the founder and pilates instructor behind Bondi Rise. You can also try these pilates moves.
Pelvic curls – which are done laying on the floor – are a lovely, gentle exercise that allows you to activate your glutes, without too much effort. With your back grounded to the floor and your legs bent, Maynard recommends tilting your pelvis back and forth to find its ideal alignment. Breathe in, and as you exhale, squeeze your glutes and lift into a curl. You can place your fingertips on the side of your buttcheek to feel the muscles activating. Engage your glute, your core and your hamstring to slowly lower back down and repeat.
If you’re looking for an exercise you can do while binge-watching The Handmaid’s Tale, then do some clams. As you lay on your side with bended knees, you can stabilise your pelvis by stacking the hips. Using your hands on the side of your glutes as guidance, slowly rotate your top leg up and back down, keeping your big toes together. You can add a resistance band and fire up your glutes even more.
To prevent butt amnesia after a long day, there’s always room for horse kicks and their many variations. In a tabletop position, stabilise your pelvis and extend one leg out. Squeeze your butt muscles and lift your leg up and down. “By activating the glutes before doing any movement you ensure that there won’t be any pressure on your lower back,” says Maynard.
For that juicy feeling of stacking your body back together after a long day, do some roll ups and downs. As you’re standing up with a soft bend on the knees, tuck your chin in and slowly roll your spine down. This will help decompress your back and stretch the glutes. When you’re ready, slowly roll back up, going one vertebra at a time, and release the shoulders back. Pair your roll downs with other pilates movements, because not only does it feel great, but it’ll also instantly wake up your butt from amnesia.
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