Gluteus Medius Muscle Facts

The Muscle that Keeps You from Toppling Over Sideways

Gluteus medius - The muscle that keeps you from toppling over sideways.
Gluteus medius - The muscle that keeps you from toppling over sideways.

Have you ever felt so unstable while walking, stair climbing or getting up from a chair that you thought you might topple over sideways? If so, it may have been a sign of weakness from your gluteus medius muscle.

What is the Gluteus Medius Muscle?

The gluteus medius is a fan shaped muscle located on the side of your hip. This location positions the gluteus medius as a key posture muscle, one that plays an important role in back health. As you'll see, the gluteus medius is a hip abductor muscle, as well as an antagonist muscle to the inner thigh, aka, adductor muscles. In case you're wondering, antagonist muscles perform the opposite movement from agonists, and together the agonists and antagonists help produce functional joint motions.

Gluteus Medius — What's So Special About It?

The hallmark contribution of the gluteus medius muscle is side to side pelvic stability; in other words, it keeps you from toppling over sideways when you walk and stand. The gluteus medius coordinates with the rest of the hip muscles to keep the pelvis in balance during other types of movements, as well. This is important when you do core stabilization work and it may also help prevent injury and manage back pain.

In fact, a critical but often overlooked function of the gluteus medius is to maintain hip alignment when you stand on one leg. This means it plays a role in walking, running and some standing balance exercises. As it does so, the gluteus medius contracts isometrically, that is, without either shortening or lengthening.

Gluteus Medius — The Anatomy and Movement

The gluteus medius originates on the external surface of the outside of the ilium, aka, your hip bone. It traverses downward — narrowing as it goes — to insert on a rather large knob of bone located on the outside of the upper thigh bone, called the greater trochanter.

If you could visualize the gluteus medius muscle from the side, you'd see it as a fan shape that starts at the greater trochanter, where it looks a bit like a stem, and widens up and out to cover the side of the hip bone in the area mentioned above.

The gluteus medius is one of several hip muscles — each in their own location and specialized action around the hip joint — that connects the thigh bone and the pelvis.

The job of the gluteus medius is to abduct the thigh, relative to the pelvis.

But abduction can happen another way, too. When you stand with your feet planted and stationary, you likely can tilt your trunk to one side. While side tilting does involve some spinal movement, it also involves tilting your pelvis sideways. 

Pelvic tilting during standing abduction is accomplished by two things: A contraction of the gluteus medius on the same side, and sideways sliding of the pelvis toward the opposite direction. The combination is an effort to maintain balance while you move your hip.  As you can see, standing hip abduction is much more complex than simply taking the lower extremity out to the side, yet they both contract the gluteus medius muscle and move the hip and thigh away from each other.

Knowing this may help you tailor your selection of therapeutic exercises to your goal, condition and/or preferred level of challenge.

Joint Movement and Planning Your Therapeutic Exercise Program

By the way, most therapeutic or corrective exercise programs aimed at relieving low back pain include strengthening and stretching exercises for all the muscles that surround the hip joint, including the gluteus medius. This is because the hip joint is key for body stability and locomotion.

In fact, people often believe — whether consciously or not — that support for their lumbar spine is supposed to come from back and core muscles.

While it certainly doesn't hurt to have these muscles in good condition, many times an opportunity to support the body weight and posture from lower down, where leverage is better, is missed. This area includes, of course, muscles around the hip joint, and those that attach to the greater trochanter, as discussed above. And the gluteus medius is certainly one of these muscles!

A Word from VeryWell

Without hip muscle strength and flexibility, your body posture may not be as supported as it could be, which may lead to unnecessary compression or loading of spinal joints, poor posture and pain.

 

View Article Sources
  • Sources:
  • Moore, Keith, L. and Dalley, Arthur, F. Clinically Oriented Anatomy. 5th Edition. Lippincott, Williams and Wilkins, A Wolters Klower Company.
  • Tortera, Gerard J. Principles of Human Anatomy. 6th Edition. Biological Sciences Textbooks, Inc. New York. 1996. Baltimore. 2006.