How to Treat a Gluteus Muscle Strain, According to Physical Therapists

Learn the causes and symptoms of a gluteus muscle strain and how to treat it, especially with exercises from physical therapists.

Published Date: Jul 1, 2024
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Your gluteus muscles, which are located at the back of your butt, around your hips, and slightly down the back of your femur, play a vital role in stabilizing your pelvis, straightening your leg, and helping you move from side to side. If your glutes hurt from a gluteus muscle strain, you might have a tough time engaging in a lot of everyday activities, from walking to playing sports to even getting in and out of a chair or car. 

A strain to the gluteus muscles can cause muscle soreness and difficulty with range of motion, but with gentle, targeted movement and other conservative, at-home interventions, strains typically heal on their own.

Read on to learn more about what causes a gluteus muscle strain, along with how to prevent and treat it — especially with exercises recommended by our Hinge Health physical therapists.

Our Hinge Health Experts

Sarah Kellen, PT, DPT
Physical Therapist
Dr. Kellen is a Hinge Health Physical Therapist and board-certified orthopedic clinical specialist. She has a special interest in pregnancy and postpartum care.
Jonathan Lee, MD, MBA
Orthopedic Surgeon and Medical Reviewer
Dr. Lee is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon and an Associate Medical Director at Hinge Health.
Maureen Lu, PT, DPT
Physical Therapist and Clinical Reviewer
Dr. Lu is a Hinge Health physical therapist and board-certified orthopedic clinical specialist with over 17 years of clinical experience.

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What Is a Gluteus Strain? 

“A gluteus strain typically occurs if the load placed on your glute muscle exceeds the capacity or strength of that muscle,” explains Sarah Kellen, PT, DPT, a physical therapist at Hinge Health. In other words, a glute strain might happen when you use one of your buttock muscles in a way they’re unprepared for, resulting in some tearing of the pulled muscle. 

Your glutes are composed of three major muscles:

  • Gluteus maximus, in the back of the buttock, is the biggest and strongest of the glute muscles. 

  • Gluteus medius is located on the back of the buttock and the side of the hip.

  • Gluteus minimus, which is located under the gluteus medius.

Any of these three muscles, Dr. Kellen explains, can experience a strain. 

Strains can range from a grade 1 to a grade 3 tear. Grade 1 strains are tiny micro-tears you may not even notice, whereas grade 3 strains are more severe tears that can affect your function and cause more pain. 

No matter the degree of the tear, gluteus strains can heal on their own without major intervention — and exercise is one of the most important things you can do to help improve your symptoms.

Gluteus Strain: A Hinge Health Perspective

If your glutes are injured, the idea of any movement — let alone exercise — might feel unrealistic or even overwhelming. And while hearing that you’ve “torn” something in your body can sound alarming, your muscles — especially the big muscle groups in your buttocks — are very resilient and designed to recover from the kinds of issues that naturally can happen in the course of everyday activities or during exercise.

If you’re reluctant to move because you think you’ll cause more pain or injury to your glute muscles, know this: Movement is often the fastest way to healing. As our Hinge Health care team says, movement is medicine. “We want to start with gentle movement that can help promote healing blood flow and then gradually progress to exercises that can build more strength,” says Dr. Kellen. 

While it’s always a good idea to listen to your body, avoiding exercise can actually delay the healing process with strains and other injuries. A physical therapist (PT) can help recommend exercises most likely to help you heal from a gluteus strain and decrease the likelihood of injury in the future. woman

Symptoms of a Gluteus Strain 

Gluteus strain symptoms can vary based on which muscle you injured and how severe the strain is. According to Dr. Kellen, some of the most common glute strain symptoms may include: 

  • Pain or soreness in your buttocks or the outside of your hips, especially after activity or exercise 

  • Muscle stiffness

  • Difficulty with glute movements, such as straightening your leg or bending down

  • Swelling

  • Tenderness over the affected area 

  • Bruising, if you have a more severe glute strain

Causes of a Gluteus Strain

Gluteus strains happen when a buttock muscle or tendon is overexerted. This can happen for a few reasons:

  • Repetitive strain. If you have a job or hobby that involves repetitive activation of the glute muscles, such as walking up stairs or moving side to side in sports, you may experience a gradual tear of your glutes over time if your body isn’t prepared for these types of movements.

  • Muscle overload. Sudden increases in weight during leg-strengthening exercises, like a leg press machine, instance, can result in a muscle tear of your glutes. “It’s important to note that general strength training causes micro-tears to muscles to help you get stronger,” says Dr. Kellen. “That isn’t a bad thing, unless it’s too much or too high of a load.”

  • Over-stretching. Another acute form of a gluteus strain can occur when you stretch a muscle past a range of motion it’s equipped for, such as during squats or deadlifts.

Treatment Options for a Gluteus Strain

Gluteus strains can be uncomfortable and feel limiting. But an injury to your buttock muscles doesn’t have to (and shouldn’t) keep you from your usual routine or doing the activities you love. You can take a few steps to help your glutes heal, including:

  • Keep moving — with modifications. While you may be familiar with the R.I.C.E. (rest, ice, compression, and elevation) approach to pain relief, there’s a more updated treatment strategy — P.E.A.C.E. and L.O.V.E. — that prioritizes gentle movement and activity modifications for sprains and strains. Instead of avoiding movement entirely, simply pull back on activities that cause any unacceptable increases in pain in your glutes. 

  • Use ice, heat, or both. Put ice or heat on your glutes for 15-20 minutes up to four times per day. Ice is often more helpful in the first few days after a gluteus strain to reduce pain and swelling. After a few days, you can keep using ice or switch to heat. Test each out to see if one helps reduce symptoms like pain and stiffness more than the other.

  • Consider over-the-counter (OTC) medication. Pain relievers such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), naproxen (Aleve), and acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be helpful for pain from a gluteus strain. It’s important to make sure that you are safely able to take these medications, based on your medical history.

  • Change your sleeping position. If you tend to sleep on your back, consider sleeping on your side or stomach to take pressure off your glute muscles as you rest. 

  • Physical therapy. Targeted exercises can help promote blood flow to the injured area, says Dr. Kellen, along with strengthening glute muscles to prevent another muscle strain down the road. A physical therapist (PT) can help guide you through stretching and strengthening moves for your glutes (like the ones below). You can see a physical therapist in person, or use a program like Hinge Health to access a PT via telehealth/video visit.

PT-Recommended Exercises for Gluteus Strain Recovery

Get 100+ similar exercises for free

  • Glute Set
  • Lateral Wall Push
  • Forward Step Up
  • Bent Over Hip Extension
  • Standing Side Leg Raise

The most effective exercises for glute strain recovery focus on gradually building strength in the injured area. “The idea is that if the muscles are stronger, they can better tolerate tasks and activities, so you are less likely to experience a strain in the future,” says Dr. Kellen. The above exercises recommended by Hinge Health physical therapists are a great place to start. 

The information contained in these videos is intended to be used for educational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice or treatment for any specific condition. Hinge Health is not your healthcare provider and is not responsible for any injury sustained or exacerbated by your use of or participation in these exercises. Please consult with your healthcare provider with any questions you may have about your medical condition or treatment.

PT Tip: Warm Up Before a Workout

One of the best ways to reduce strain anywhere in the body, including the glutes, is to do an effective warm-up before you engage in physical activity. “The best warmups involve dynamic stretching, which incorporates movement rather than a sustained hold,” says Dr. Kellen. To target the glutes, she recommends a figure four stretch, plus high knees or butt kicks. 

How Hinge Health Can Help You 

If you have joint or muscle pain that makes it hard to move, you can get the relief you’ve been looking for with Hinge Health’s online exercise therapy program.

The best part: You don’t have to leave your home because our program is digital. That means you can easily get the care you need through our app, when and where it works for you.

Through our program, you’ll have access to therapeutic exercises and stretches for your condition. Additionally, you’ll have a personal care team to guide, support, and tailor our program to you.

See if you qualify for Hinge Health and confirm free coverage through your employer or benefit plan here.

This article and its contents are provided for educational and informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice or professional services specific to you or your medical condition.

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References

  1. Mulcahey, M. K. (2020, June). Sprains, Strains and Other Soft-Tissue Injuries. OrthoInfo – American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases--conditions/sprains-strains-and-other-soft-tissue-injuries/ 

  2. Dubois, B. & Esculier, J. F. (2019). Soft tissue injuries simply need PEACE & LOVE. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 54, 72-73. doi:10.1136/bjsports-2019-101253

  3. Gluteus Medius. (n.d.). Physiopedia. Retrieved from https://www.physio-pedia.com/Gluteus_Medius 

  4. Gluteus Maximus. (n.d.). Physiopedia. Retrieved from https://www.physio-pedia.com/Gluteus_Maximus 

  5. Sprains and Strains. (n.d.). Medline Plus. Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/sprainsandstrains.html