We often hear about our glutes needing to fire up or that they have switched off. This blog post explains how your glutes can’t simply switch off.

Lets explain what the “glutes are”…..

The gluteal muscle group consists of 3 muscles: Gluteus Maximus, Gluteus Medius and Gluteus Minimus (max, med and min). They make up the buttock region and are responsible for hip extension, abduction, internal and external rotation. The are attached to the ilium and the greater trochanter (top of the leg).

Functionally, the glutes help us remain in an upright stance and they help us perform activities such as squats, lunges, walking and climbing the stairs.

The nerve which supplies the gluteals is the superior gluteal nerve. The nerve helps the muscle stabilise the pelvis especially during walking and exercising. When unloaded contralaterally, the muscles help to prevent hip drop by contracting.


If you have ever sat so long that your legs start to ‘fall asleep’, you are experiencing a compressive type nerve injury. There are a few reasons why this can happen such as sustained pressure on the area causing what is known as a neuropraxia. When you cross your legs, there is a small amount of focal damage to the myelin sheath, or the ‘outer covering’ of a nerve. The electrical supply remains intact, and the nerve is still able to conduct impulses to contract our muscles. The sensation usually subsides when we shift positions to alleviate pressure or get up and move around. The myelin sheath has the ability to repair itself over time, causing no symptoms or issues with muscle bulk.


If there is sustained pressure on a nerve over a period of several hours or days, or worse, a direct traumatic injury to a nerve, more significant damage can occur. Examples of these are a crush injury, double crush, or a palsy. In these examples, the electrical supply (axon) of the nerve is damaged, and the person will be left with longer lasting symptoms such as chronic numbness and tingling, gait and mobility issues, or inability to use their damaged limb.

What we experience when we sit for extended periods of time throughout the day is a mild insult to the nerve and not sustained damage that is irrecoverable. We have the ability to naturally shift and change our positions to alleviate sustained pressure. We naturally do not sit perfectly still. Therefore it is unlikely that we are providing enough sustained pressure to our superior gluteal nerve at any given time to impair the electrical supply from the nerve to the muscle, which causes muscular atrophy (muscle wasting).

Which means that we simply can’t switch off our glutes! We may have a reduced output through them where they are not contributing as much as we would like which is usually caused through old injuries (these can cause adaptations to the movement patterns.)

If you feel that your glutes are causing you pain, contact us now to speak to one of our physiotherapists or book an appointment here.