The buttocks and upper legs contain three major muscle structures: the gluteus minimus, medius, and maximus. Any of the three gluteal muscles can be injured due to overuse, over stretching, muscle strain, direct trauma, and many other possible causes. Injuries are commonly caused during strenuous physical activity, while playing sports and as a result of a severe fall. Depending on the severity of a gluteus injury, a person may experience sharp pains and a loss of flexibility in one or both legs. An individual who believes he or she may have suffered this type of injury should visit his or her doctor to identify the cause and learn about different treatment options.
The most common cause of a gluteus injury is stretching or straining one of the muscles beyond its normal range of motion. Such injuries are prominent in athletes, especially soccer, football, and baseball players who make sudden movements and overexert their legs during a play. Track events such as hurdles or the long jump can also increase the likelihood of a gluteal strain. Other risk factors include not stretching the legs before activity and playing in cold weather.
Excessive acute stress on a gluteal muscle can cause it to tear, which usually results in immediate pain and leg weakness. The skin may bruise after a few hours, and the buttocks typically will feel very tight. Swelling, tenderness, and weakness can persist for up to two weeks, depending on the severity of the injury.
A gluteus injury may also result from frequent overuse. People who engage in strenuous activity on a daily basis for several hours at a time are at risk of straining a gluteal muscle or a nearby supportive tendon. Overuse injuries typically worsen slowly over time. Soreness in the buttocks may only be noticeable following a day of activity at first. Pain gradually becomes more constant to the point that the buttocks or legs hurt all of the time.
Less commonly, a gluteus injury can result from direct force on the buttocks. A fall from height can bruise the muscles and possibly damage the underlying sacroiliac joint or coccyx. The impact from a thrown ball or a tackle may damage the gluteus maximus, the muscle closest to the skin.
Most minor strains and bruises will heal on their own in less than one month. Rest, ice, and over-the-counter pain medications can help to relieve symptoms and shorten healing time. If a person is in significant pain following a gluteus injury, he or she should be evaluated by a physician to check for major damage. Even major tears usually heal with time, rest, and guided exercise. Surgery is rarely needed to treat an injury to the gluteus.