Dead Butt Syndrome
Previously published in Silver Sage Magazine, October 19th, 2020
Yes! That’s what the title says—my butt is apparently dead. Dead butts are a real thing. Who knew?! Like many of you, I intended to age gracefully. I consider myself to be a reasonably intelligent, vibrant woman with some serious skills and life experiences. Until the COVID-19 nightmare, I tried to go to the gym three times a week, drink lots of water, avoid the excesses of youth, and, for the most part, act my age.
I write novels, short stories, and a lot of freelance communications, all of which I do using my computer. My computer lives on a lovely arts-and-crafts desk in a carefully “curated” workspace, surrounded by dark woods, old carpets, and antique bits and bobs. My workspace is quirky, comfortable, and utterly suits me. I use it a lot. However, as a result I have had to confront a startling revelation: my butt has died.
Let me explain. Firstly, you should know that I’m not joking. “Gluteal Amnesia,” also “Gluteus Medius Tendinopathy”—a.k.a. Dead Butt Syndrome—is a real thing. On an unremarkable day in April, I was writing to a deadline. I worked from eight in the morning until six at night with only a couple of quick bathroom and snack breaks. When my task was finally complete, I went to stand up from my workstation and discovered that my legs and back didn’t want to co-operate with the rest of me. I was basically “locked up.”
After a couple of tense seconds, I was able to manoeuver into an upright position. I decided the smart thing to do would be to walk out the kinks. For the next several days, I went on long, purposeful walks attempting to exercise my aching everything. Increasingly, I had to shorten the walks because I was finding it more and more painful to remain in an upright position for any length of time. I bathed myself in muscle rub, swallowed pain relievers, sat on heating pads, and iced aching bits without experiencing any relief.
When our local physiotherapy unit reopened (it was closed during the initial COVID-19 shut-down), I began therapy. Weekly appointments for acupuncture, deep-tissue massage, an electronic buzzy thing, and ultrasound did little to dissipate the pain. In fact, the pain seemed to move around indiscriminately, intensifying as the weeks progressed. I was mortified when the therapist insisted that I begin walking with the support of a cane.
Five months later, I’ve discovered the truth. My butt died. And while the “death” part is mostly figurative, the situation I found myself in is quite real.
What is Dead Butt Syndrome?
According to Kristen Schuyten, D.P.T. at a physical therapy clinic at Michigan Medicine, “Our bodies aren’t designed to be seated for long periods of time.” The gluteal muscles become deconditioned with too much sitting, ultimately resulting in a pelvis that is not supported and a body that slips out of alignment, creating all manner of muscle stiffness and pain, including potential motor malfunctions. It is often mistaken for sciatica. Muscle weakness may compress nerves, causing numbness, which is how Dead Butt Syndrome got its name.
Prevention and Management
The all too obvious way to prevent this syndrome is by ensuring you take frequent breaks from seated work. No more than thirty to sixty minutes of seated work is recommended before giving yourself a stretching or walking break. Andrew Bang, D.C. at the Cleveland Clinic, suggests that we “try sitting for 40 minutes and then standing for 20 minutes.” I now have a kitchen timer at my desk and set it to ring after short intervals. Using a standing desk or workstation is also an excellent remedy. There are as well a number of exercises and stretches that help to counter the condition. Squats, hamstring stretches, lunges, stair climbing, leg lifts, and glute squeezes are all useful for maintaining and restoring the conditioning of muscles.
After several months of hard work, my pain levels are finally manageable, and I can mostly cope without a cane. But the exercise regime and the discipline of spending less time working in a seated position has become a part of my new reality. So yes, my butt is still dead but I’m hopeful that those muscles will become reconditioned and I can go back to aging gracefully.