Weak Glutes and Back Pain

by Stephanie Sharpe, MoFi Exercise Science Editor

Does climbing stairs make your legs hurt?  Does your lower back ache on a regular basis.  Certainly, a variety of ailments can result in lower back pain and general weakness in performing simple daily activities such as climbing stairs. But one often overlooked cause of your minor aches and pains in the back and legs could be right behind you.

Gluteal function (ie, your tushy) is very important for proper posture and general daily activity. Individuals who are primarily sedentary may experience low back pain and other injuries due to weak gluteals.  In severe cases, the shock impact of walking is not absorbed by the gluteal muscles and can lead to hip osteoarthritis – arthritis of the hips (Izzo, 2009). A weak gluteus maximus can cause patellar tendinitis (an injury to the tendon connecting your kneecap (patella) to your shinbone), achilles tendinitis (an overuse injury of the Achilles tendon), posterior tibialis tendinitis (which is pain to the tendon that attaches the calf muscle to the bones on the inside of the foot.  which holds up the arch and support the foot when walking), and plantar fasciitis (heel pain). A study of ten healthy males who were subjected to five weeks of complete bed rest found that inactivity induces atrophy (the degeneration of cells) and de-conditioning of muscles, especially in the lower extremities (Berg, Eiken, Miklavcic, & Mekjavic, 2007). After five weeks a more pronounced atrophy was seen in the muscles whose contraction extends or straightens a limb or other part of the body (extensors) of the gluteal region, thigh, and calf.


Like bed rest, sitting for long periods of time causes the gluteal muscles to atrophy. Because of this, movements that require the use of gluteal muscles such as climbing stairs and rising from a seated position, becomes difficult. With less gluteal activation, more stress and is placed on the lumbar spine which can then cause low back pain. The development of Trendelenburg gait is also due to gluteal weakness.


With Trendelenburg gait, the gluteus medius cannot hold the opposite side of the pelvis up during single leg support which tilts the pelvis downward when the swing leg is in the air (Presswood, Cronin, Keogh, & Whatman, 2008). This dysfunction will reduce gait efficiency and running speed. Another problem that can be attributed to weak gluteal muscles is Iliotibial band syndrome, “which occurs when the connective tissue (ligament) extending from the pelvic bone to the shinbone becomes so tight that it rubs against the thighbone. Distance runners are especially susceptible to it”. (Runners World.com)

Good length-tension relationships of muscles that surround the gluteals will help them perform the best. These surrounding muscles include the tensor fascia latae (TFL), hip flexors, adductors, hamstring, trapezius, erectors, and multifidus (Izzo, 2009). All of these muscles are negatively affected by continuous sitting. The correct functioning of the gluteal muscles will allow for hip rotation and extension without compensations and will ultimately reduce lumbar pain.


All sub definitions from www.mayoclinic.org

Berg, H., Eiken, O., Miklavcic, L., & Mekjavic, I. (2007). Hip, thigh and calf muscle atrophy

and bone loss after 5-week bedrest inactivity. European Journal Of Applied Physiology,

99(3), 283-289.

Izzo, J. (2009). Pointing out gluteal atrophy. NOAC Newsletter. Retrieved from


Presswood, L., Cronin, J., Keogh, J.W.L., & Whatman, C. (2008). Gluteus medius: Applied

Anatomy, dysfunction, assessment, and progressive strengthening. Strength and

Conditioning Journal, 30(5), 41-53.

Romani-Ruby, C. (2014). Functional anatomy of the hip [Video File]. Retrieved from



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