Updated: Apr 4
The glutes is an area of the body that responds really well to foam rolling or self-massage using a massage ball (my preferred method) or foam roller. But there are times when massaging your glutes can actually make your pain or discomfort worse. In this article, I discuss the dos and don'ts and also demonstrate the method I find most useful.
In this article:
Do you prefer to watch rather than read? I also discuss all of these topics and demonstrate my preferred method of rolling the glutes in this video.
When NOT to foam roll or self-massage your glutes
Glute strains or tears
If your glute pain or discomfort came on suddenly as a sharp pain while doing an activity, I would suggest that you consult a physiotherapist before attempting any self-massage. This type of injury usually means that you've torn a muscle, so you will make the injury worse if you massage it too hard during the first week or so.
When you have gluteal tendinopathy, the tendons that attach the gluteal muscles to your hip bone can be very sensitive and easy to irritate. It is quite common for them to flare up, causing an increase in your pain, after a hard massage or foam rolling session. The best treatment for gluteal tendinopathy is a combination of relative rest and carefully graded strength training.
Hip or trochanteric bursitis is when one of the bursae that lie between your gluteal tendons and the hip bone becomes inflamed and swollen. A bursa is a fluid filled sac that is meant to decrease friction between a tendon and bone, and you get them all over your body.
The main reason for a bursa to become injured is when it experiences excessive compression. If you apply more pressure over an already irritated bursa by foam rolling the area, you usually just end up making it worse.
Irritated sciatic nerve and piriformis
When you have lower back pain it is quite common to also have a very irritated sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve runs through your buttock, usually under, through, or over the piriformis muscle. When the sciatic nerve is irritated and sensitive, it can also cause the piriformis muscle to become crampy and tight. Applying strong pressure to the piriformis muscle or gluteal area when the sciatic nerve is aggravated can often cause it to flare up even worse.
When foam rolling or massaging your glutes won’t work
You may find that your glutes remain tight and sore despite foam rolling and stretching them regularly. This can be a sign that you're training too hard and that they are not getting enough time to recover.
If you don't give muscles enough time to recover between exercise bouts, they will become tight and sore and you may even end up with overuse injuries like gluteal tendinopathy. No amount of stretching or massage will fix this. Your muscles need rest. It's important that you plan your training weeks and months to allow recovery.
When is it OK to foam roll or massage your glutes?
A massage ball or foam roller can be very useful if you have tight or crampy glutes from exercise. I find that the ball works much better than a foam roller to provide point pressure and really gets into the muscle. The current research shows that self-massage tools like foam rollers and massage balls can be just as effective as a sports massage to improve your flexibility.
There is also evidence that foam rolling your muscles after exercise can decrease the muscle soreness that you feel after a hard training session or competition.
How to self-massage your glutes
You can use either a foam roller or a massage ball to massage your glutes. There is currently no gold standard when it comes to foam rolling or self-massage. What they tend to do in the research studies is use a combination of:
Rolling or broad strokes. When they use this method, they spend about two minutes per muscle group.
Sustained point pressure. This is when they find a tender spot and sustain the pressure for between 30 to 60 seconds, until you feel the sensitivity reduce.
I personally find that I get best results when I sustain the pressure on tender spots in the muscle for about 60 seconds before I then move on to the next spot.
In the video at the start of this article I demonstrate two methods. The first one is on the floor and can be quite painful. For the second one, you lean into a wall, which allows you to better control the amount of pressure that goes through the massage ball. If you've never massaged your own glutes before, the wall method may be the better one to start with.
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Don't be too aggressive! You are looking for 'comfortably uncomfortable' pressure. You should always feel either better or the same after using a massage ball or foam roller. It's OK to feel a bit tender after using it, and it can be quite uncomfortable while using it, but it may not be the right thing to do if you feel that your pain is worse afterwards or even the next day.
Need more help with an injury or just more tailored injury prevention advice? You’re welcome to consult one of the team at SIP online via video call for an assessment and a tailored treatment plan.
We're all UK Chartered Physiotherapists with Master’s Degrees related to Sports & Exercise Medicine. But at Sports Injury Physio we don't just value qualifications; all of us also have a wealth of experience working with athletes across a broad variety of sports, ranging from recreationally active people to professional athletes. You can meet the team here.