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If you are among the hundreds of millions of people who suffer back, knee, or hip pain, a new study says that your buttocks may be the reason why.

American Baptist minister the Reverend Doctor Esther Wilson was training for the Iron Woman Triathlon when she was sidelined by pain in her left knee.

“I continued to run,” Rev. Wilson said, “thinking that sooner or later it would just go away. But the pain in my knee became so intense and constant that I couldn’t run. In a couple of weeks, I couldn’t even walk. I just couldn’t understand what was going on.”

When Esther couldn’t even walk across the kitchen to turn off the heat under a pot of macaroni that was boiling over, she reluctantly decided to go the doctor, for the first time in many years. An MRI showed that she had a tear in the meniscus, the C-shaped section of cartilage that sits on top of the tibia at the lower end of the knee. The tear was so bad that she needed surgery. But when Dr. Wilson started doing physical therapy so she could participate in next year’s Iron Woman Triathlon, her therapist said the problem seemed to have started higher up.

How the Butt Butts Into Joint Problems

A torn meniscus usually results from twisting the knee or Flexing it to far or too often. The tear in the cartilage causes wobbly knees, popping knees, knee pain, which can be intense, and swelling. Doctors, trainers, and athletes often try to point to a specific episode that resulted in the torn cartilage. Esther, however, had actually been very careful to avoid knee trauma, since she knew that nothing else was more likely to take her out of competition.

Esther’s problem had to be something else. Her trainer, after seeing an interview with Ohio State University physical therapist Chris Kolba, realized that the problem might really originate in her gluteal muscles, her glutes, with a condition called dormant butt syndrome.

Dormant butt syndrome isn’t unlike the feeling you have when you have sat too long in one place and your buttocks fall asleep, and then you have trouble getting up again, except it happens when your body is in motion. In this syndrome, when your gluteal muscles aren’t strong enough, the muscles and joints around them absorb strain. This causes damage to the muscles and joints and the tendons attaching them to each other.

Dormant Butt Syndrome Also Caused by Sitting Too Much

Kolba says that it isn’t just exercising too much with weak glutes that can cause this kind of joint and muscle damage. It can also result from sitting too much.

“It’s actually caused quite often by activity and the way we sleep,” Dr. Kolba said in an Ohio State University press release. “Sitting for extended periods throughout the day weakens the glute muscles and puts strain on other parts of our core, as does sleeping in the fetal position.”

Continue reading after recommendations

  • Pearson J, Walsh N, Carter D, Koskela S, Hurley M. Developing a Web-Based Version of An Exercise-Based Rehabilitation Program for People With Chronic Knee and Hip Pain: A Mixed Methods Study. JMIR Res Protoc. 2016 May 19
  • 5(2):e67. doi: 10.2196/resprot.5446. PMID: 27197702.
  • Infographic by SteadyHealth.com
  • Photo courtesy of bethlomeyes: www.flickr.com/photos/34536315@N04/3365337619/

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