Most of us are familiar with the phrase “sitting is the new smoking” because of the myriad health issues linked to prolonged sedentary behavior. One of the lesser-discussed but highly critical issues arising from our chair-bound lives is the weakening and deactivation of our gluteal muscles. This can play a significant role in the onset of low back pain. Here’s why activating and strengthening the glute muscles – primarily the gluteus maximus – is essential in preventing low back pain:
Anatomy & Biomechanics 101
The gluteus maximus is the largest muscle in the human body. It plays a pivotal role in hip extension, outward rotation, and abduction. When functioning correctly, it acts to stabilize the pelvis and supports the lumbar (lower) spine during activities that engage the lower body.
The Connection Between Glutes and the Lumbar Spine
Weak or inactive glutes can lead to an imbalance in our movement pattern. Other muscles, like the muscles of the lower back (lumbar paraspinals) or the opposite hip muscles (tensor fasciae latae or TFL), have to compensate for the lack of gluteal engagement. This compensation leads to overuse, strain, and eventually pain.
The Chain Reaction of Inactivity
Inactive glutes can also influence the entire kinetic chain, impacting both above and below the lumbar spine. This can lead to issues like anterior pelvic tilt (resulting from tight hip flexors and weak glutes/abs), which can exaggerate the lumbar curve, placing more strain on the lower back. Similarly, it can also contribute to knee pain because of altered mechanics during movement.
Posture & Distribution of Force
Activated and strong glutes support an upright posture, ensuring the force from activities like walking, lifting, or running is evenly distributed and not excessively burdening the lumbar spine.
Glutes as Shock Absorbers
Think of the glutes as your body’s shock absorbers. When you jump, run, or engage in other high-impact activities, robust glute muscles can absorb some of the impact, reducing the jarring forces transmitted to the lower back.
Activation Before Strength
While it’s crucial to have strong glute muscles, it’s equally important to ensure they’re activated appropriately during activities. Even individuals with well-developed glutes can have a disconnection in activating them effectively during functional movements. Exercises like glute bridges/planks, hip extension, and bird-dogs can help in “waking up” these muscles and ensuring they are recruited correctly during more complex activities.
What can we conclude from this
Our bodies operate as interconnected systems, with each part playing a role in overall function and health. The glutes, being our primary mover and stabilizer for many activities, hold a crucial position in this system. If they’re not working optimally, other parts, like the lower back, bear the brunt of the additional stress. By focusing on both the strength and activation of our gluteal muscles, we can ensure a robust and resilient lumbar spine, keeping low back pain at bay.