It's really no big secret at this point that sitting too long can have numerous negative effects on your health. Over the past several years, multiple headlines have proclaimed sitting to be "the new smoking." Often, these reports focus on the larger health issues — which include things like obesity and heart disease — but ignore those parts of your body directly involved with sitting. Namely, your glutes. How can sitting all day affect your glutes? What can you do if you experience pain in your buttocks when sitting for long periods?
What It Does
Although they aren't typically thought of this way, the reality is that your glutes are part of your core. Along with your hip flexors, these large powerful muscles help to support your spine and keep you upright. But, just like any other muscle, your glutes may begin to weaken if they are inactive for long periods — which happens when you spend all day sitting at a desk.
If your glutes start to atrophy, they can no longer provide the support that the muscles surrounding your hips and spine need. As a result, these other muscles must compensate and will deal with new stresses that are beyond their capabilities. The affected muscles will then start to tighten, pulling on your lower back, causing pain and weakness throughout your core.
This condition goes by many names in the medical community, including lower cross syndrome, gluteal amnesia, gluteus medius tendinosis and, memorably, "dead butt" syndrome. As mentioned, dead butt syndrome is characterized by pain in the lower back and hips, caused by weakness in your glutes.
What You Can Do
So, if you experience pain in your buttocks when sitting for long periods what can you do? Remember, the underlying issue here is a tightness in the hips caused by weakness in the glutes. To remedy the situation, this imbalance must be addressed.
Your glutes can be effectively strengthened through a number of exercises — most famously, the squat. Depending on your situation and schedule, squats can be performed with or without additional resistance. In fact, if you're first starting out, it's usually better to practice the movement with no extra weight. The exercise should go like this:
- Stand upright with your feet about shoulder-width apart and your arms at your sides.
- Keeping your core tight and your back straight, slowly drop your hips back and bend your knees to lower yourself into a squatting position. As your hips drop towards the floor, lift your arms straight out in front of you for balance.
- Stop when your thighs pass parallel with the ground. Pause here for three to five seconds.
- Slowly return to the starting position.
This exercise — and those like it — will address the muscular weakness. However, the tightness in your hips will need regular stretching. Foam rolling or massage can also help. Workouts like Pilates and Barre are also excellent ways to deal with this imbalance.
Of course, none of the above-mentioned steps would be necessary if no imbalance existed in the first place. So, one of the most effective things you can do is to simply avoid sitting too long. Using a standing desk will obviously make it easier for you to stay out of the chair. However, standing for long periods may also cause tightness and discomfort.
Really, then, the key is to avoid staying in any one position for too long. If you're sitting at your desk, try to stand for 20 minutes out of every hour. And the reverse if you tend to stand more. In either case, taking regular breaks to walk and move around will help your muscles to stay strong and balanced.