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What Is the Superior Gluteal Nerve?

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  • Written By: Sandra Koehler
  • Edited By: M. C. Hughes
  • Last Modified Date: 27 October 2016
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Nerves are the essential components of the nervous system that serve as a type of wiring system to allow the brain and spinal cord to connect with the body. Branching out through the entire body, nerves communicate electrical and chemical signals providing sensations and directives for movement of specific parts of the body in response to stimuli both internally and externally. The superior gluteal nerve is located in the pelvis and buttocks area.

Stemming from the sacral plexus, a grouping of nerves emerging from the sacral or the pelvis vertebrae, the superior gluteal nerve innervates three key muscles in the buttocks area: the tensor fasciae latae, the gluteus medias, and the gluteus minimus. The tensor fasciae latae fastens to the outer section of the ilium and into the iliotibial band, a fibrous band that runs on the outside of the hip to the upper portion of the leg. The gluteus medius attaches from the ilium, the large, upper bone in the pelvis to the greater trochanter of the hip, a large projection of the femur or thigh bone. The gluteus minimus sits under the gluteus medius and also fans out from the ilium to the greater trochanter.

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Both the gluteus medius and the tensor fasciae latae are responsible for the movement of the leg out from the midline of the body, known as hip abduction. The gluteus minimus allows the hip to medially rotate, or turn the leg inwards towards the opposite leg. These movements are made possible by the signals sent to and from the area via the superior gluteal nerve. Stability of the hip area during static activities or walking are also a product of the communication system provided by the superior gluteal nerve.

Damage to the superior gluteal nerve through injury or inflammation causing the nerve to be squeezed can produce decreased hip stability or a reduction in the amount of hip abduction. In turn, this weakness can cause an abnormal gait pattern often referred to as Trendelenburg gait. This walking abnormality is recognized by the pelvis tilting downwards causing the trunk to list towards the weakened side.

An irritation of the superior gluteal nerve may also cause an irregular over-firing of the muscles that can result in a gait deviance where the pelvis hikes ups in an atypical fashion. This overactive nerve gait problem is often referred to as a Duchenne limp. When the superior gluteal nerve is affected on both sides of the body, the result is a “waddling” effect during walking.

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