In a previous blog post (October 2008) I wrote about gluteal (butt) tightness. I did not go into the specific muscles involved, but this time I am going to discuss one specific butt muscle – gluteus minimus.
The gluteal muscles are comprised of 3 different muscles: gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus.
Gluteus minimus is the smallest and deepest of these muscles, and so harder to get at. It is a strong abductor of the hip – which means that it lifts your leg off to the side, away from your body – as well as a internal rotator of the hip.
My interest in this muscle was recently piqued, thanks to a massage therapist friend of mine with chronic hip tightness. While massaging her over the past year, she has encouraged me to go deep into the lateral hip. She has also done a lot of deep lateral hip work on me, and I found that it really did help my hips feel looser on my runs.
Being more aware of gluteus minimus, I now notice that many of my clients are tight in this area. Tightness in this muscle can reduce the looseness in one’s outer/lateral hip joint. And if the tightness is left untreated, trigger points (TPs) could develop. If TPs form in the gluteus minimus, referred pain could possibly be felt in 1) the more fleshy part of the posterior butt, 2) down the outside of the leg to the outer calf and ankle, or 3) the back of the hamstring into the upper calf.
I can, and will, get in there with my elbow and thumbs to release the tightness. However, another great way to deal with tightness in this area is by self massage with a tennis ball. Lie down on the floor on your side, with the top leg in front of you for stabilization and bottom leg relaxed on the floor. Place the tennis ball under your hip between the edge of your pelvic bone and the top of the femur (check the above link for specific location of this muscle). Release as much of your weight as possible onto the ball, and roll back and forth. If you find a tight spot, just hang out there and try to relax into it.
This area is not as sensitive as the illiotibial band (ITB) below it. You might feel some discomfort, but usually it just feels really good to get in there. The foam roller, used to massage the ITB, doesn’t really get into the gluteus minimus – it is not specific enough to go deep between the bones.
For general flexibility of the area, stretching is also good. Regularly stretching the outer hip feels really good. I love doing this stretch after I run, every day. Another hip stretch I like, is great if you are at work or someplace where you just can’t lie down……like in that coffee shop after your bike ride.
Anybody who is active is going to use gluteus minimus to some degree. I know with my longer runs on uneven ground, I am asking a lot of it. So, keep those hips loose not just because it feels good, but because it could prevent pain in the future.