Yoga Butt: What Is It, Causes & How To Heal

There might just be such a thing as too many sun salutations!

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Hamstring tendonitis, often called ‘yoga butt’, is an inflammatory injury caused by an inflammation or irritation in the tendons at the back of your thigh.

Yoga butt can cause a deep pain in the butt area and be a fairly common injury amongst yogis – hence the name!

Let’s take a look at:

a woman doing a downward dog with red pain symbols on her hamstring

the anatomy of the hamstrings

The hamstrings are a group of three muscles located on the back of the thigh: the biceps femoris, semitendinosus, and semimembranosus.

  • Biceps Femoris: This muscle has two parts, a long head, and a short head. It runs along the outer part of the back of the thigh
  • Semitendinosus: Located medially (closer to the midline) on the back of the thigh
  • Semimembranosus: Lies deeper and medially compared to the other two muscles

These muscles originate from a bony prominence in the pelvis (the ischial tuberosity) and extend downward to attach to the tibia and fibula bones in the lower leg.

The hamstrings primarily function to bend the knee and extend the hip.

In yoga, they’re often engaged during poses that involve forward bends, balancing poses, and transitions from standing to seated postures. For example:

  1. Forward bends: Poses like uttanasana and paschimottanasana elongate and stretch the hamstrings, improving flexibility.
  2. Balancing poses: Engaging the hamstrings is important in poses like Warrior III, where the lifted leg extends backward, engaging these muscles for balance and stability.
  3. Transitions: During transitions from standing to seated poses or vice versa, the hamstrings support the body, controlling movement and maintaining stability.
an anatomical image of hamstring muscles

In more depth: What is yoga butt?

Hamstring tendonitis refers to inflammation or irritation of the tendons that connect these hamstring muscles to the bones.

Tendons are tough, fibrous connective tissues that serve as connectors between muscles and bones in the body. They’re essential for transmitting the forces generated by muscles to bones, enabling movement at joints.

The inflammation that causes yoga butt commonly occurs near the insertion points of the tendons on the bony prominence at the pelvis or the back of the knee.

The hamstring tendons are crucial for various lower body movements, including walking, running, jumping, and bending the knee. They also play a pivotal role in transmitting the forces generated by the muscles during movement.

Overuse, repetitive stress, sudden changes in activity, or inadequate recovery can strain or inflame these tendons, leading to hamstring tendonitis.

What causes yoga butt?

1. Repetitive stress

A rapid increase in the intensity, duration, or frequency of physical activity, especially without adequate conditioning or warm-up, can strain the hamstring tendons.

Activities that involve repeated stress on the hamstrings can also strain the tendons over time. If you take a second to think about the amount of extension that our hamstrings are doing in yoga vs how much we’re flexing them in poses, you can see how unbalanced a practice can be.

Even just a simple sun salutation has so much flexion of the hip, leading to lengthening of the hamstrings with multiple forward folds and downward dogs.

Therefore, the repetitive nature of these movements can cause tiny tears or microtrauma in the tendon tissue over time, especially when not balanced with strength work.

someone lying down doing a hamstring stretch

2. Muscle weakness

Feeding into the last point – in an average yoga class, I could take a guess and say the majority of poses that focus on the hamstrings will be a lengthening pose, instead of a strengthening one.

Whilst, of course, we teach poses like virabhadrasana 3 and purvottanasana, so many poses involve passive lengthening without strengthening.

Insufficient strength in the hamstring muscles might make the tendons more susceptible to injury. Certain poses heavily engage the hamstrings and, if these muscles are comparatively weaker due to muscle imbalances, they might be more susceptible to overuse or strain.

Weaker muscles may not effectively support the demands of certain poses, resulting in increased stress on the tendons, causing yoga butt.

3. Lack of warm-up

In our eagerness to practice, some of us fall victim to impatience and overlook warming up.

Though it sounds simple, warming up can make the world of difference when it comes to hamstring tendonitis.

Inadequate warm-up routines prior to practice can leave muscles, particularly the hamstrings, stiff and less pliable, increasing the risk of strain or overstretching during poses.

Cold muscles are more vulnerable to injury, and without a thorough warm-up, the hamstrings may not be adequately prepared for the demands of yoga postures like prasarita padottanasana, potentially leading to tendon overuse or injury.

a woman in a blue shirt doing a wide legged standing forward bend on a yoga mat

4. Lack of recovery

Similarly, continuous or frequent yoga sessions without adequate rest intervals can prevent the hamstrings from fully recovering.

If it was your first time reaching your belly to your thighs in parsvottanasana yesterday, it’s probably a good idea to give your hamstrings a rest for the next few days and allow them to recover.

Think of it as your way of thanking your body!

Without proper recovery time, the hamstrings endure repeated stress, hindering the body’s natural repair processes. The tendons might not have sufficient time to recover from microtears or strain, increasing the risk of inflammation.

Symptoms of yoga butt

Pain and discomfort

  • Tenderness: feeling tenderness or soreness in the glute muscles, particularly around the hip area.
  • Pain with movement: experiencing pain or discomfort when performing specific movements involving the hip, such as forward bends, deep hip openers, or poses that require a lot of engagement in the glute muscles.

Limited range of motion

  • Reduced flexibility: finding it challenging to achieve full range of motion during hip movements or stretches due to tightness or discomfort in the glutes.

Muscle fatigue

  • Weakness or fatigue: feeling muscle fatigue or weakness in the glutes, especially after extended or intense yoga sessions that have heavily engaged these muscles.

Inflammation or strain

  • Inflammation: experiencing inflammation or irritation in the gluteal muscles or tendons due to repetitive stress or overuse.
  • Strain: encountering muscle strains or microtears in the gluteal muscles from excessive engagement during certain poses.

Discomfort during daily activities

  • Difficulty sitting: feeling discomfort, aches, burning sensations, or pain while sitting for extended periods, particularly if the gluteal muscles are strained or inflamed.
a man clutching his painful hamstring wearing grey shorts

preventing & managing yoga butt

1. Balancing your practice

Maintain a balanced approach to yoga to avoid overworking specific muscle groups, including the hamstrings.

Try to:

  • Maintain variety in poses: Incorporate a mix of standing, seated, balancing, and inversion poses that engage different muscle groups, distributing effort evenly.
  • Use modifications: Use props like blocks or straps to modify poses, allowing for a more accessible practice and reducing strain on the hamstrings.

Explore variations of both bent legs to reduce the tension in the backs of the legs – “don’t kill the instincts of the body for the glory of the pose“!

2. Strengthen, strengthen, strengthen

Strengthening the hamstrings ensures a balance in muscle strength between the quadriceps and hamstrings, which stabilizes the knee joint, whilst also helping to evenly distribute the load and forces exerted on the tendons during movement.

This process will also help to strengthen the tendons, ensuring your legs are better equipped to withstand repetitive stress or sudden movements without succumbing to tendonitis.

Here’s some poses that you can add into your practice to develop strength in our often-neglected hamstrings:

a woman doing a bridge pose on a living room carpet

3. Cross-training

We love yoga as both a spiritual practice and movement discipline, but it certainly doesn’t qualify as a complete workout.

It’s so important to load our muscles through resistance training, continually increasing the demands on the musculoskeletal system to help us stay strong and healthy.

So make sure to supplement your yoga practice with other types of training, whether using free weights or resistance machines.

It would also be great to incorporate activities like swimming, running, hiking, or cycling to build overall lower body strength.

4. Recovery and rest

As discussed earlier, add rest days into your routine to give the hamstrings and other muscles time to repair and recover – you don’t need to be on the move all the time!

Even better, engage in restorative yoga sessions on a weekly basis, perhaps swapping out one of your more active sessions for a yin or restorative class once in a while.

This one is a non-negotiable: don’t skip your savasana!

Not only does it promote overall muscle relaxation and recovery, it allows the body to assimilate the benefits of the practice, deeply relaxing the body-mind after physical exertion and mental focus.

Our current culture often glorifies busyness, making it challenging for individuals to prioritize rest or moments of quiet in their schedules.

Many feel compelled to constantly be on the move, engaging in activities or filling every moment with noise, fearing that rest equates to laziness.

Often, the discomfort with rest and silence often stems from societal conditioning that values constant productivity and achievement. Feeling uncomfortable with rest or silence can be a sign of mental or emotional overload, indicating a need to pause.

So, take this as your sign to rest – not just for your muscles, but for your overall peace, health, and wellbeing.

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Liz is a Qigong and Yoga teacher based in Gloucestershire with a love for all things movement, nature & community. She strives to create a trauma-informed space in which everyone is empowered to be their authentic selves.

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