The first time one hears the term “dead butt syndrome” the natural tendency is to stifle the urge to giggle. This inclination to laugh is likely based on a grade school experience where there was always one entertaining kid who blurted out the word “butt” and the entire class convulsed into uncontrollable laughter. Someone who is more mature might simply smile and say, “I beg your pardon! Dead what?” However, anyone who has ever experienced the shooting pain of dead butt syndrome knows that it is anything but funny.
The medical term for this condition is gluteus medius tendinosis. It is an inflammation of the tendons in the gluteus medius which is one of three large muscles of the hip. It is very common among serious runners – those who train for half-marathons, marathons and longer races – and it results in stabbing like pain in the hip. Often, this pain is so intense that it precludes the sufferer from running, walking or even sitting for any length of time. The cause of dead butt syndrome is a lack of comprehensive, lower body strength training.
The Importance of the Gluteus Medius Muscle
More and more, sports medicine experts are finding that many lower body injuries are linked to the gluteus medius muscle. In a 2010 New York Times article, Dr. Darren Bright, a sports medicine physician at Riverside Methodist Hospital in Columbus, Ohio said, “A new thought in running medicine is that almost all lower extremity injuries, whether they involve your calf, your plantar fascia or your iliotibial band, are linked to the gluteus medius.”
The Lance Armstrong Foundation, Livestrong website also has information on dead butt syndrome. “Runners who have the condition often experience severe hip pain during and after running for short or long distances. Because the gluteus medius muscle controls the pelvis as well as the hips, people who have dead butt syndrome also may walk with a wobbling or lurching gait. When standing still, patients tend to shift the majority of their weight over one hip.” Due to the fact that all lower body muscles are interrelated, if this condition is not corrected it can affect knees, feet, Achilles tendons and calf muscles.
Medical Diagnosis and Therapy
Pain can be a very useful bodily function. When it appears, it causes whatever action that is causing it to be stopped and a rational mind starts figuring out how to correct the problem. Unfortunately, many long-distance runners who have an inordinate (almost addictive) dedication to their sport are not rational and they often try to “run through the pain.” This is a big mistake with dead butt syndrome because the inflammation, scarring and pain get worse.
In most cases, once a physician has determined that a runner is suffering from dead butt syndrome, physical therapy is ordered. This involves stretching the muscles in the hip and leg and then strengthening the gluteus muscles. When this is combined with a reduction in the mileage of running, the cycle of inflammation is usually stopped.
In more serious cases, ultrasound therapy is used to identify the affected muscles and small holes are drilled to break up the scar tissue. Platelet-rich plasma therapy, which gained prominence among professional baseball pitchers, football quarterbacks and receivers and golfers such as Tiger Wood, has also been used to correct dead butt syndrome. This involves the injection of centrifuged blood into the inflamed muscles.
Cross Training and Lower Body Exercises
As with most medical conditions, the best solution for this painful condition is prevention. Interestingly, endurance athletes such as those who compete in triathlons don’t have near the incidence of dead butt syndrome as marathon runners. This is because triathletes must swim and cycle as well as run in their sport. The stress on muscles used in swimming and cycling are different from those that are involved in long-distance running. This strongly suggests that long-distance runners should incorporate regular, cross-training and strength training.
In his book, “Stronger Legs and Lower Body” former professional athlete, fitness expert and author Tim Bishop notes, “Endurance activities such as long-distance running, long-distance swimming and triathlons call on mostly slow-twitch muscle fibers for movement and use aerobic energy systems as their main source of fuel. Strength and power activities (such as sprinting) call on fast-twitch muscle fibers for movement and anaerobic energy systems for fuel…however the body never uses just one type of muscle fiber group or one energy system (in any sport).”
Bishop notes that in order to build gluteal muscles the best approach is to employ “compound exercises.” These involve multiple joints and multiple muscle groups. “The squat, for instance, is the most notable and probably the best of all glute exercises; it involves flexion and extension at the ankle, knee and hip joints as well as recruitment of the gluteal (gluteus maximus), quadriceps and hamstring muscle groups.”
His book suggests and illustrates the following exercises to prevent dead butt syndrome:
* Body-weight Squat
* Barbell Squat
* Walking Lunge
* Leg Press
* Functional Trainer Squat
* Bench Single-Leg Squat
* Step Up and Step Down
* 4-Way Hip-Machine Extension
* Ankle-Weight Standing Hip Extension
* Mini-Band Hip Extension
* Exercise Ball Lying Hip Extension
* Single and Double-Leg Bridge
* Miniband Lateral Walk
* Sled Push
Dead Butt Syndrome Need Not be Fatal
Before undertaking any of these exercises, it is important to get guidance from a professional trainer, physical therapist or physician. This is especially true if one is experiencing the symptoms of dead butt syndrome.
The good news about dead butt syndrome is that it’s not fatal. However, in order to prevent this painful condition, the most important strategy is to diversify workouts. In addition to the aerobic conditioning of running, lower body strength training and stretching should incorporated on a regular basis. Hopefully this will keep dead butt syndrome from being a royal pain in the rear.