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What is dead butt syndrome? Here’s who’s at risk, and how to prevent it

a photo of a woman stretching her glute muscles
(Image credit: Getty/ Westend61)

Despite its silly-sounding name, dead butt syndrome is no joke. It’s caused by sitting down for extended periods of time, so if you find yourself working behind a computer screen all day, or you’re a gamer who spends long hours sitting down, you need to know more about this condition. 

Like all medical conditions, if you are worried you are suffering from dead butt syndrome, it’s a good idea to seek advice from your doctor, or another medical professional. 

What is dead butt syndrome?  

The clinical term for this condition is gluteus medius tendinopathy, although it is also referred to as gluteal amnesia, dead butt syndrome, or DBS. The condition means the glute muscles have forgotten how to perform their main purpose — namely supporting the pelvis and lower back, after long periods of inactivity. 

The good news is that despite its name, the glutes haven’t "died" and the symptoms of the condition can easily be reversed by moving more and sitting less. That said, it takes longer to revive the muscles with movement and exercise than it does for the condition itself to develop, so prevention really is important here. 

What are the symptoms of dead butt syndrome? 

The symptoms of dead butt syndrome will vary from person to person, but it normally presents itself as follows: 

  • Lower back or hip pain: The main job of the glutes medius is to help stabilize the pelvis. If the glutes aren’t working correctly, it can result in lower back or hip pain. 
  • Knee and ankle pain: As the body tries to compensate for imbalances, you might also feel the tension in the knees or ankles.  
  •  Shooting pain: Similar to sciatica, you might feel shooting pain down your legs 

You might experience numbness in the glutes after a few hours sitting behind your desk, but this will normally subside after a few minutes of standing or walking. With DBS, this numbness won’t disappear as quickly, or at all, and can be felt down one or both legs. 

If left untreated, DBS can develop into more serious conditions, such as swelling or inflammation in the hip joint, or injuries to the hips and knees as you adjust your running or walking stride to combat the imbalances. 

A photo of a man sat behind a desk

(Image credit: Getty/Hinterhaus Productions)

Who is commonly affected by dead butt syndrome? 

Here’s the catch — it’s not just people living a sedentary lifestyle that can suffer from this condition. In fact, it’s thought that runners who spend a lot of their non-running time sitting down are at higher risk of DBS, as are athletes and ballet dancers. 

That said, anyone who spends a lot of time sitting down should watch out for this condition. Sitting down causes the hip flexors to tighten and the glutes to stretch, and if the hip flexors aren’t regularly stretched, you might find yourself developing DBS. 

What to do if you think you have symptoms

If you think you’re suffering from DBS, it’s a good idea to chat to your doctor or physiotherapist, who will properly be able to assess the situation and come up with a plan to help.

Depending on the symptoms, it might be recommended that you take some time off sporting activities to let your body properly recover. Often your doctor or physio will recommend following the RICE principles of rest, ice, compression, and elevation. Once the pain has subsided, you’ll be given a treatment plan, which might include a set of exercises to follow at home, massage, or other alternative treatments. 

What is the best way to prevent dead butt syndrome? 

The good news is that DBS can easily be prevented. One easy way to prevent the condition is to break up the time you spend sitting. This could be by using a standing desk, or by setting a 30-minute timer on your phone to remind you to get up and take a short walk every hour. 

There are also several exercises you can add to your routine each week to strengthen your hips and glutes. 

an illustration of a woman doing a squat

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Squats: An easy exercise to work into your bodyweight routine, or your next strength training session, a squat targets the glutes. 

To do a squat, stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, with your toes pointing slightly outwards. To start the squat, bend your knees and hips as if you’re sitting on a chair that’s directly beneath you. As you squat down, push your knees outwards so that they track directly over your middle toe. As you squat lower, push your chest out, and keep your eyes looking straight ahead to keep your back flat and avoid hunching or rounding your spine. Squat down as low as you can while keeping your knees in line with your feet and your back flat, then push with your feet to stand back up to your starting position. 

Here’s more about how to do resistance band squats, and the best variations to try. 

How to do a glute bridge

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Glute-bridges: To do a glute bridge with correct form, you’ll need to start by lying on your back on an exercise mat, with your feet pressed into the floor about hip-width apart. Engage your core (think about sucking your belly button into your spine) and squeeze your glutes together as you raise your hips and pelvis to the sky. Squeeze your glutes at the top, before slowly lowering your hips back to their starting position. That’s one rep. 

To make bodyweight glute bridges harder, raise your arms up to the sky. Here’s more on how to do a glute bridge, and the best variations to try.  

Kettlebell deadlift

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Deadlifts: Deadlifts are a great exercise for activating your hip extensors, which can get tight after prolonged periods of sitting down. 

To do a deadlift, start with your feet shoulder-width apart and a bar, or set of dumbbells in front of you. Lift the bar or dumbbells by driving from your hips, moving them forwards, keeping your back flat. Squeeze your glutes at the top of the movement, before lowering the bar back to the ground with control.  

Here's how to do a deadlift using a resistance band if you don't have weights at home. 

an illustration of a woman doing step-ups

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Step-ups: To do a step-up, you’ll need a box, bench, or a step. Start facing the box, with your hands on your hips. Step your right foot onto the box, and drive your left knee up to your chest, before stepping back to your starting position. Repeat on both sides and aim for 10 reps on each leg. 

Looking for more workout inspiration? We’ve found the best exercises to do if you sit down all day, five of the best exercises to fire up your glutes, and the simple wall sit exercise, which works your glutes, quads, and calves.  We've also answered an expert whether strength training can boost your metabolism — read the answer here. 

Jane McGuire
Jane McGuire

Jane McGuire is Tom's Guide's Fitness editor, which means she looks after everything fitness related - from running gear to yoga mats. An avid runner, Jane has tested and reviewed fitness products for the past four years, so knows what to look for when finding a good running watch or a pair of shorts with pockets big enough for your smartphone. When she's not pounding the pavements, you'll find Jane striding round the Surrey Hills, taking far too many photos of her puppy.