The Gluteus Maximus: Get Sciatic Pain Relief
The Gluteus Maximus is a very large muscle that makes up the buttock and can be a source of sciatic pain relief. This muscle is responsible for simple daily activities like: sitting down with control and get back up as well as walking and running.
A weak gluteus maximus can cause a person to clinch or squeeze their glutes all the time. Holding your glutes clinched is bad because it can cause weakness as well as clinching of the posterior pelvic floor. Believe it or not, the piriformis is one of the muscles of the pelvic floor. A tense piriformis can cause pressure on the sciatic nerve. Note I didn’t say a tight piriformis! Most of the time this is not an issue that responds to stretching in the long term. Meaning- you stretch your piriformis, you get a little relief for a short while, the pain come back, you want to stretch again. The cycle of stretching for relief is just that, a cycle. By strengthening the glute complex (gluteus maximus, medius and minimus) it will decrease clinching and decrease the constant contraction on the piriformis and thus the sciatic nerve.
Keep reading for my favorite glute max strengthening exercises.
The second part of this issue is a posterior pelvic tilt (tucked under pelvis). When you clinch you tuck under your pelvis, this causes you to lose the curve in your lower back (while making you look like you have a flat butt)! Losing the curve in your lower back can cause damage to the lumbar disc and pressure on the lumbar nerves (sciatica).
Take the Gluteus Maximus Clinch Test
While standing, squeeze your glutes and hold for 1 second then completely let them go. Do you notice a difference? Do you feel a release or relaxation of the muscle? If you answered yes, then you clinch your glutes! Try this test while standing in the grocery line, brushing your teeth or washing dishes at the sink. Catch yourself in mid-act of clinching your glutes and make it stop.
To prevent sciatica, the most important time for you to not clinch your glutes is during forward bending tasks. This is when the glutes desperately need to lengthen to properly support the pelvis and low back. Common task include: brushing your teeth, washing your hands (yep, your glutes are lazy!), loading the dishwasher, reaching into the trunk, etc. It’s these little every day tasks where the gluteus maximus says, “no thanks, I’ll take a break and just clinch at this low level instead of eccentrically loading to support the pelvis and spine like I’m supposed to.”
What do I mean by eccentric loading of the Gluteus Maximus?
Eccentric loading means controlled lengthening. Think about doing a biceps curl. On the way up the biceps is shorting (concentrically loading). The way down the biceps is lengthening (eccentrically loading). If you kept your biceps clinched at the top the weight would never lower. The glutes have to work the same way. When you bend over you lengthen the glutes, it’s a controlled letting go of the muscle. If you hold them clinched, you bend over 100% from your hamstrings and low back. This is bad on both fronts. Do you want to destroy your spine or strain your hamstring? Neither is very fun.
How do you tell if you are eccentrically loading your Gluteus Maximus when you bend over?
To properly lengthen your glutes place two fingers on the muscle. As you squat your fingers should get further apart. Try it on your biceps. Curl your arm up and place two fingers side by side on the muscle. As you straighten your arm your fingers should get further apart. You just witnessed lengthening of a muscle! Now, try it on your glutes. Did you pass the test or did your fingers stay the same distance apart?
How do I get my Gluteus Maximus working again?
#1 Check out your feet
Are your arches caving in? Do you collapse or over-pronate when you stand or walk? Your glute max could be desperately trying to compensate for your weak foot. Poor gluteus! The clinching is trying to say “hey foot, wake up and hold my leg up, I can’t do all the work from up here.”
A great place to start on arch strengthening is a short foot exercise.
#2 Work the Gluteus Maximus with Eccentric Focus
We have already talked about how important it is for the glute max to lengthen properly to support the pelvis and low back, now let’s back it up with action.
One of my favorite lengthening exercises is a single leg lower.
#3 Reconnect with your Gluteus Maximus
Try to be more conscious of clinching your glutes. Start with a small task, like washing your hands. Every time you wash your hands focus on letting your glutes lengthen instead of holding them tight.
During the day, give yourself the clinch test. Bringing awareness to the area will help you overcome the habit of constantly holding them tight. By letting go a little you will allow your body to get stronger naturally!
Love this post? Check out my Top 10 Exercise Routine now.
Still having trouble not clinching? Try this release exercise to help let go. If the foam roller cannot go deep enough, try a lacrosse ball. *Check out more foam rolling exercises here. Be sure to check with your healthcare provider before attempting any myofascial release.
Still having trouble getting the piriformis to let go? Try working into internal rotation of the hip and turning on the adductors. More on this to come in my pelvic floor workout series!
For more information on sciatica, the mayo clinic offers a nice summary.