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The dangers of sitting too long are well-documented and well known. Does the phrase “sitting is the new smoking” ring a bell?
This comes from the idea that sitting for prolonged periods can increase your risk of diabetes and heart disease. It can cause you to gain weight. Too much screen time can undo the positive effects of dieting and exercise, and excessive sitting can actually take years off of your life: One study, which followed over 92,000 women between the ages of 50 and 79 over a 12-year period found that too much sitting is linked with early death.
And in less morbid news, did you know prolonged sitting can actually cause something called “dead butt syndrome?” It’s true, and the pandemic is only making it worse. Here’s everything we know about this condition.
What is dead butt syndrome?
“Dead butt syndrome,” or DBS, is the unofficial term for gluteus medius tendinopathy, or gluteal amnesia. According to the Cleveland Clinic, DBS happens when your gluteal muscles basically “forget” that their main purpose is to support your body and keep it in proper alignment. As a result, muscle tightness, weakness, and imbalance occur.
While numerous factors can cause DBS—including muscle strain and overuse—the predominant cause is a sedentary lifestyle. “When you sit for a prolonged period without walking or stretching, your glutes may become sore or numb,” says Dr. Peter Bailey, MD a doctor who specializes in family medicine. “This is because humans are not meant to sit in a fixed sitting position for extended periods … it flattens your glutes and puts straining pressure on your backside. Doing so can cause your butt to ‘fall asleep’ and may result in stiffness or pain.”
What are the symptoms of dead butt syndrome?
The symptoms of “dead butt syndrome” are fairly straightforward, i.e. individuals with DBS may experience soreness or numbness in their buttocks. Stiffness can also occur. Pain is common, especially in and with more severe cases, and your backside may become inflamed. Those with DBS have reported swelling in their hips, back, and buttocks. But that’s not all. Some people will experience more serious symptoms. “Significant cases of DBS can cause a sciatica-like pain to shoot down your legs,” Dr. Bailey says. “Lower back pain may also occur, as may a loss of strength in your hips, butt, and core.”
How is dead butt syndrome diagnosed?
If you are experiencing any of the symptoms of DBS, you should see your doctor, as your physician can determine whether or not you have this condition. Of course, the exact diagnostic criteria will vary. Some doctors diagnose DBS by reviewing your symptoms and medical history while others conduct a physical examination. The Trendelenburg test, a physical exam in which a person lifts one leg in front of them while standing, is also frequently used.
However, it’s important to note that not every doctor believes in and/or supports the DBS diagnosis. In fact, Dr. Jasmine Marcus, PT, DPT, CSCS, a physical therapist and certified strength and conditioning specialist, tells Parade that dead butt syndrome is an outdated term for a condition we know now doesn’t exist. “It was once thought that people with certain injuries had glutes that weren’t turning on or firing correctly, but this idea has been proven not to be accurate. If you aren’t paralyzed and don’t have nerve damage, your butt is on and working. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be able to get up out of a chair or climb a stair.”
How is dead but syndrome treated?
The proper treatment for “dead butt syndrome” will depend on how far it has progressed and what your current activity level is like. Some individuals may require physical therapy, while others will simply need to do strengthening stretches and exercises at home, but all cases require individuals to take a break from exercise and sports and practice the RICE method.
- Rest: stay off your feet as much as possible
- Ice: the area to reduce pain and swelling
- Compression: wrap your leg(s) and/or knee, if advised
- Elevate: keep your leg(s) up and well-supported
Walking also helps, in the treatment and prevention of DBS. “The easiest and most effective prophylactic measure to DBS is to get up and walk more often,” Dr. Bailey says. “I know that sounds too simple, but it truly is the best means to stave off DBS. If you have a desk job, set a recurring timer on your phone for every hour to get up and do a 5-minute lap and/or get a standing desk, as standing while you work relieves pressure on your glutes and actually forces them to work to support your trunk.”