The Importance of the Glute Medius
The Gluteus medius originates on the outer surface of the ilium (see image below), just below the crest and inserts on the greater trochanter of the femur. Or in other words, it originates on the pelvis and attaches to the large ball on the outside of the femur.
This glute medius is a broad muscle that narrows towards its tendon giving it a fan-shape (as you can see from above). The larger Gluteus MAXIMUS overlaps the muscle posteriorly. The glute medius is about half the size and weight of the neighbouring glute max.
The gluteus medius is an important muscle in walking and running. If you place your hand on your hip and locate your glute medius, you can actually feel the muscles contract to stabilise the hip as you walk. The glute medius is also essential for single leg weight-bearing as it stabilises the hip. One example of a single leg weight-bearing yoga asana would be Tree pose. In Tree pose, the gluteus medius stabilises the pelvis of the standing leg.
Weakness in the glute medius has been associated with lower-limb musculoskeletal injuries and can cause Trendelenberg gait. This is abnormal walking movement caused by weakness of the abductor muscles of the lower limb (glute medius & tfl). This condition makes it difficult to support the body’s weight on the affected side. When there is a abductor weakness, during walking the pelvis drops instead of rising on the unsupported side.
Creating awareness of your glute medius is therefore essential in maintaining the integrity of your hips. Next time you are in Tree, consciously think about your glute medius. Co-contract the muscles down the standing leg and use your glute medius to keep your pelvis stable.
Aside from pelvis stabilisation, the primary movement of the muscle is to abduct the hip. Or raise your leg out to the side. If you lie yourself down on the ground lying on your hip and side and raise your leg off the ground, it is the glute medius that lifts, or abducts the hip. So you can see this movement, my niece and yoga mascot Ameera has kindly modelled for me in the picture below. Her left glute medius has contracted to abduct her hip.
It's difficult to say for sure if constant repetition of this movement is enough to strengthen the glute medius as there is no external resistance but the movement will create more awareness of this muscle and switch on a muscle that perhaps isn't "working" as it should.
Below is an image of a side plank. In order for me to keep the right leg lifted, I must use the gluteus medius to abduct the hip. The glute medius will then isometrically contract (or contract without movement) to keep the leg lifted. This is another way to bring your awareness to the muscle.
The posterior fibres of the glute medius, or the muscles closer to the backside, may also assist in extending the hip or lifting the leg behind you and also in external rotation of the hip. The anterior fibres, or the fibres closer to the groin, may assist in flexing the hip (see image below).
The glute medius also internally rotates the hip when the hip is flexed. So looking at the image above, in the hip flexed position the yellow fibres (the anterior fibres of the glute max) will now internally rotate the hip, or turn the hip inwards.
In terms of stretching the glute medius, the first asana that springs to my mind is eagle pose although how much this actually stretches the glute medius is arguable. Another stretch that I personally feel (at times intensely) is the best stretch for the glute medius, is cradle pose (below).
As mentioned earlier, the glute medius internally rotates the hip when the hip is flexed or bent. So when you sit and flex the hip, you have to externally rotate the hip to create the cradle stretch. Here is an earlier blog on this pose that also stretches the other hip rotator, the TFL muscle.
Another pose that stretches the glute medius is revolved triangle (below). When I personally practise this pose, I intentionally drop the right hip (looking at the image below). Dropping the right hip takes the left hip further into adduction increasing the stretch to the glute medius. Here is an blog from earlier in the year taking you through revolved triangle.
The gluteus medius is sometimes referred to by therapists as the rotator cuff of the hip. That’s because the rotator cuff is the most common cause of pain in the shoulder and the most common cause of hip pain is due to problems with the glute medius. If you experience pain and discomfort around the hip, especially around the greater trochanter, you are best advised to speak to your doctor or visit your physio. If you are lucky enough not to have experienced any pain around your hip then keep stretching your glute medius. Just one revolved triangle a day, will keep the physio away.