Toward the end of last week, Queen guitarist Brian May took to Instagram to reveal that he had ripped his ass. He’d been in the garden, he wrote, and in a moment of “over-enthusiastic gardening,” he just blew out his butt so hard it landed him in the hospital.
And while literally ripping ass sounds pretty funny, the reality is far from a laughing matter. “I won’t be able to walk for a while… or sleep, without a lot of assistance, because the pain is relentless,” May detailed. Moreover, the incident landed the 72-year-old in the hospital for several days, where he says tests revealed he’d “managed to rip [his] gluteus maximus to shreds.”
According to Altamash Iftikhar, a family physician specializing in sports medicine, this type of injury is as rare as it is painful — which is to say it’s “incredibly rare, to the point of being almost unheard of,” he tells me. “But nothing is impossible, they can tear just like any other muscle.”
John Baio, a physical therapist in New York, concurs. “Gluteus maximus tears are so rare that I couldn’t find reported incidence data in research,” he explains. The reason this particular muscle almost never tears, Baio says, is because it’s “one of the biggest and strongest muscles in the body.”
“Humans have developed such a strong glute max because of our upright bipedal ambulation — animals that walk on four legs won’t have the ‘Kardashian booty,’” he continues.
For the most part, the gluteus maximus is used to extend the hip, but even then, it’s helped out by two smaller gluteus muscles. “The gluteal muscles — maximus, medius and minimus — are key muscles that are involved in stabilization of the pelvis and deal with abduction and extension of the hip, along with internal and external rotation of the hip,” Iftikhar explains. As such, they’re almost constantly in use. “Standing, stabilization and walking up and down stairs, these muscles are being used for everyday activities,” the doctor adds, “which in addition to the size of the muscles, is why injuring them can be extremely painful.”
Just how painful depends on how badly you ripped ass. “There are three grades of a muscle tear,” Iftikhar explains. “A Grade 1 tear is usually minimal muscle fibers that are torn without there being any loss in strength or range of motion; a Grade 2 tear involves more muscle fibers being torn with some loss of strength or range of motion; and a Grade 3 tear is a complete tear of the muscle/tendon with loss of strength or range of motion.”
In severe cases, Iftikhar adds, “the sciatic nerve, which runs deep to the gluteal muscles, can sometimes be aggravated or irritated, depending on which gluteal muscle is being affected.”
To that end, Baio says the gluteus medius is the more common butt muscle to tear — particularly for women. “A gluteus medius tear affects women over men at a 4:1 ratio, and approximately 25 percent of women over 60 years old, compared to only 10 percent of men in the same age group,” he tells me.
As for the painful road May has ahead of him, it depends on the seriousness of his injury. “For a Grade 1 tear, you can expect to heal with conservative management such as ice, rest, stretching and proper physical therapy in two to four weeks,” Iftikhar says. Meanwhile, “a Grade 2 tear can take anywhere from six weeks to two to three months to fully heal.”
But if we’re to take May at his word, and assume “ripped to shreds” indicates a Grade 3 tear — i.e., the absolute worst-case scenario — Iftikhar says recovery won’t be easy. “A Grade 3 tear can sometimes require surgical intervention to re-attach the tendon to its bony attachment, after which the patient can expect to work on gaining back strength and mobility, which can take a few months,” he explains. “Again, this obviously all depends on the type of muscle and/or tendon involved, as well as the status of the patient before surgery, as well as other comorbid conditions.”
Inactivity — for example, being stuck in quarantine — is the quickest route to injuring a muscle, Baio says, so the best way to avoid ripping ass is “to focus on step-ups and squats.”
Which, of course, should eventually give you a completely different kind of ripped ass.