Dormant Butt Syndrome: Is It Causing Your Hip and Knee Pain?

How Pilates Can Help

Young woman doing pilates
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Knee pain? Hip tightness? Low back issues?

According to research, the problem just might be your butt. More specifically, it may be what scientists are calling "dormant butt syndrome." I know what you're thinking: there's no way your problems could be traced back to your rump. Except that it may very well be exactly that.

In the decades of being a physical therapist and a Pilates studio owner, I have never once heard a client or patient complain that their rear end was too tight or too strong.

Of course, there can always be select muscular imbalances, but by and large, most individuals tend towards the weak end of the backside muscle-tone spectrum.

The Science Behind Dormant Butt Syndrome

Experts have backed up that dormant butt syndrome is real, and while the label is unattractive sounding, it does neatly sum things up. The syndrome is defined as weak buttocks and tight hip flexors.

Experts at the Ohio State Wexner Medical Center worked with patients suffering with knee, hip, or back injuries and now believe that many of these issues are linked to your butt. According to Chris Kolba, P.T., weak buttocks fail to absorb the shock they should during activity, which results in overloading the rest of the joints and can lead to injury. How does this happen? Most often with inactivity, such as sitting for long periods. But dormant butt syndrome can also happen in runners and other active people who simply don't address this area.

Exercises to Ward Off Dormant Butt

The exercises to target your gluteals and ward off dormant butt are a body of moves identified as hip extension exercises. This is the movement that results from bringing your thigh bone backwards in space behind your pelvis. When you walk properly, the back leg should execute hip extension naturally, but poor posture, excessive sitting, and habitually dysfunctional biomechanics mean that many of us walk without achieving optimal hip extension.

In turn, the gluteal muscles never get to work and you end up with a series of painful problems.

Thankfully, Pilates can address your gluteals with some tried and true exercises you should have in your toolbox to stave off a potentially dormant butt. Proper Pilates is done with attention to the order, repetition, and variation, so I have taken the liberty of adjusting some of these moves to address this particular goal. 

Exercise #1: Swimming

Prep: Lie face down on an exercise mat, arms stretched out in front of you and legs long underneath you. Raise your head and look straight ahead of you. Lift the arms and legs in one motion, keeping them long and lengthened. Support your back by pulling up the abdominals. 

Action: Lift the right arm and left leg higher and then briskly start paddling the arms and legs in a swimming motion. Your limbs will alternate as you control your torso. Keep the trunk of the body still and breathe fully and deeply as you go. Swim for a count of 20, then rest and repeat to build strength.

Want more? Perform 3 sets of swimming with a rest in between, but slow the tempo for each set. On each successive set, count to 20 more slowly forcing your arms and legs to work bigger and higher.

Exercise #2: Hamstring Curls

Prep: Lay as you did in the swimming, face down on your exercise mat. Layer your hands one atop the other to create a cushion for your forehead. Bend both knees so your feet point up towards the ceiling. Let your knees be slightly apart, but draw the heels together.

Action: Squeeze the heels together and tuck your tail under, tightening the gluteal muscles. Hold for 3, then release your buttocks. Repeat 10 times and then rest.

Want more? Adding on from the step above. squeeze the heels, tuck your tail under tightening the seat muscles, and then lift the knees and thighs off the mat. Hold for a count of 3 and then lower the thighs to the mat. Repeat 10 times and then rest.

Exercise #3: Shoulder Bridge

Prep: Lie on your back face up on an exercise mat. Bend your knees and place your feet flat, parallel, and just narrower than hip width apart. The arms are long by your sides and the abdominals are drawn inward and upward.

Action: Press your hips up, creating one long line from your shoulders to your knees. Shift your weight into your heels, digging them down under you to help propel your hips upward. Hold for a count of 10. Lower your hips with control, then repeat twice more for a total of 3 sets.

Want more? You can vary this exercise and the intensity by making this simple change. Perform the first set as above. When you lower your hips, walk your feet a step further away from you and then perform the second set. Before the third and final set, walk your feet yet another step away from the body. It will be harder to lift the hips and you may not get up nearly as high but do your best. 

Exercise #4: Leg Pull Up

Prep: Sit tall on your mat with your legs together in front of you. Place your hands just behind your backside on the mat with your fingers pointing forward if possible.

Action: In one movement, elevate your hips. Keep your head up so you can look straight ahead of you. As you balance on your hands and feet, press the legs tightly together and aim to get the hips high enough that you create one long line with your body, from shoulders down to the feet. Hold for a count of 10. Lower and repeat two more times for a total of 3 sets.

Want more? If you've mastered the first variation, try it with one leg. For just one of the three sets, try extending one leg up to the ceiling and holding for 5 counts before switching legs. 

Exercise #5: Stand Up Straight

Prep: Our standing posture is key to how we use our buttocks. The wall series is the solution. Find a wall and stand tall against it from your heels to the back of your head.

Action: Hold your posture against the wall working the backs of your legs and the length of your spine as firmly into the wall as possible. Work to get the back of your skull into the wall as well. Add some abdominal work by drawing your waistline inward and upward. Hold for up to one minute. 

Want more? The alignment you achieved standing at the wall is how you want to hold your body all day. As you move off of the wall, work to maintain that posture throughout your daily life. Repeat the wall exercise several times a day for added benefits.

Closing Thoughts

If hip, back, or knee pain are part of your daily struggles, working on your rump may be the magic pill you've been seeking. The cosmetic benefits alone are worth the effort and you may well reduce what ails you in the process. Use this routine daily to ward off the butt syndrome that may be contributing to a host of other bodily issues.


Dormant Butt Syndrome May Be To Blame For Knee, Hip and Back Pain.

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