Lazy Bum: How to Avoid Dormant Bottom Syndrome

Many of us now work 38 hours or more a week sitting at a computer.  This has led to one of our main muscle groups being severely neglected, often with lasting consequences.  An increasing sedentary lifestyle is being blamed for what a leading American Sports Physical Therapist, Chris Kolba, from Ohio State University, has called Dormant Bottom Syndrome.  In this article we discuss what Dormant Bottom Syndrome is and how you can avoid it.

Low back, hip, knee and even foot pain, plus poor balance and loss of normal movement can result from chronic weakness of your gluteal muscles. These muscles are the ones you sit on, so weakness of the gluteal muscles really means you have a lazy, underused derriere! “Your glute muscle is a big shock absorber and it controls a lot of motion” Kolba said. “When it’s not working properly it can cause other tissues to work harder and break down”.

The glutes are made up of three layers of muscles; the gluteus maximus (the biggest), gluteas medius and gluteus minimus. The medius and minimus are “the smart guys – they do all the controlling and positioning of the femur, and when they don’t work well your knee tends to turn in and you can get foot problems” said Sydney physiotherapist Anna-Louise Bouvier, who agrees with Chris about the “bottom” issue. “A lot of people will get Achilles tendonitis or plantar fasciitis (heel pain) but it’s often not necessarily a problem down there – it is because you actually have a buttock that doesn’t work” says Anna-Louise.

Dormant Bottom Syndrome isn’t a problem confined to office workers though! Even athletes and people who exercise regularly can have it. Running typically works the hip flexors, hamstrings, quadriceps, and calves more than anything else. Most runners generally don’t do enough strength training, let alone work on strengthening their glutes. Gym goers are great at exercising the back, legs and upper body, but not so great at specifically targeting the glutes.

Another indicator of weak glutes is the saggy bottom, or even the missing bottom! There are a number of workers with strong shoulders and backs, but no backside muscle. The potential for problems just grows. Do your hips click, or are your knees painful for no obvious reason? If so, you might want to think about whether your hip muscles are strong enough.

Even aches and pains in your shoulders can be attributed to weak glutes. If your gluteal muscles aren’t stabilising your pelvis other muscle groups take over, including one that connects your pelvis to your shoulder.  This can cause imbalance around your shoulder joint and upset normal shoulder function.

How do you fix a Dormant Bottom?

For some the cure is simple: get off your butt!

The important thing is to do specific exercises to strengthen your gluteals, plus keep your hips mobile and avoid tightness in your hip flexors. One way to measure the strength in your bottom is to try and rise from a lunge position. If you are unable to do this without tensing your calves and straining your thigh muscle, your bottom muscles aren’t strong enough. Standing up from a chair without using your hands is another test of gluteus muscle strength.

So are standing desks the answer? Yes they do help, and may lower health risks on heart disease and diabetes, but do you ever find yourself dropping your hip to one side and slumping onto one leg?  If you do this is another indicator of glute weakness.

Which exercises help?

A good start is to simply squeeze your bottom when sitting.  It not only improves the circulation but makes you more aware of your bottom muscles. But you also need to strengthen them! To do this start with taking the stairs, do lunges with your knees pointing forwards or outwards, and progress to single leg splits or squats.

Another simple exercise is getting up and down from your office chair ten times. It is even better if you don’t completely sit down between reps, but hover before straightening again.

If you’ve had a weak glute for some time it is easy to do these exercises using the wrong muscles. The body always recruits the strongest muscle for the job, and this probably won’t be your glutes! Take doing a squat; you want to have your weight on your heels, your back concave, and your chest high, and to move as if you are sitting down onto a bench. If you find yourself adopting a duck like posture while doing this exercise, it is a classic sign that you have dormant bottom syndrome.

Another great exercise you can do is a side lying glute plank. Lie on your side with your forearm directly under your shoulder, the bottom leg bent 90 degrees at the knee and the top leg straight.  Contract your core and raise your hips until your body is in a straight line (make sure your hips are forward enough). Hold for 30-60 seconds and repeat on each side. Do this every two days.

If you think you have Dormant Bottom Syndrome contact your nearest Physiotas clinic and you will receive specific advice on your exercise needs.

About the Author:

Margaret Archer is a physiotherapist at Physiotas in Launceston.

Margaret is an experienced Musculoskeletal Physiotherapist. Since qualifying at the Lincoln Institute in Melbourne, Margaret has worked in a wide range of health facilities including public hospitals in all three regions of Tasmania, paediatric and rehabilitation facilities and overseas in the UK and Canada.

After gaining a Graduate Diploma in Musculoskeletal Physiotherapy from Curtain University WA, Margaret founded the George Street Physiotherapy practice in 1985, which then joined with Active Physiotherapy in 2011. Margaret remains at Physiotas in a part time capacity. Margaret’s main physiotherapy interests include low back and hip pain, neck pain and the understanding and treatment of chronic pain.

Outside of work Margaret enjoys swimming, walking, reading and her version of gardening – minimalistic but productive!