Piriformis Syndrome: What Is It?
The piriformis muscle is located at the top of your buttocks and it’s responsible for lifting up your buttock. If you have ever tried to squat down with a heavy backpack or if you’ve ever been on a plane, then you’re familiar with its action. You might think that this muscle doesn’t do much work but it does play an important role in keeping your spine stable while standing upright.
It is believed that the piriformis muscle is a remnant from when our ancestors walked around on all fours. These days, however, most of us stand upright so the muscles are no longer necessary. However, they still serve their purpose and may even get overworked due to excessive sitting or prolonged lying down.
One theory suggests that the muscle is shortening and tightening up over time. According to a second theory, the muscle has its own mind and starts firing away on its own without any instruction from your brain.
Whatever the reason may be, you’re likely to experience several signs and symptoms including:
Pain in your gluteal (buttocks) region.
Tingling sensations in the same area.
A burning sensation while sitting down for prolonged periods of time.
Pain while walking or running.
A sharp pain in the lower back when performing sudden movements.
While sitting, you may feel like your butt is going to pop out of place.
You’re also likely to have pain in your hip and upper leg area.
These symptoms are usually temporary and go away once you change position or get up. You may also experience low back pain or shooting pain down the back of your leg.
Piriformis Syndrome Treatment
Piriformis syndrome is caused by a combination of factors such as prolonged sitting, weak core strength and tight hip flexors. The good news is that you can easily treat this condition by releasing your tight piriformis muscle. You can also strengthen your core and stretch out your hip flexors to prevent the condition from getting worse in the future.
However, before you begin any treatment program, I suggest that you see a physician to rule out any serious underlying causes for your pain. Only after getting a clean bill of health should you attempt to treat this condition on your own.
The following piriformis syndrome treatment program will help you get rid of your pain safely and as quickly as possible.
Tight piriformis muscles cause your legs to feel heavy and tired. To lengthen and relax this muscle, lay down on your back with your knees bent. Slowly raise one knee up to your chest and hold it with both hands.
While holding it, gently pull it towards your body. Now, gently twist from side to side feeling the tension release. You can also gently pull your knee towards the ground on one side while pushing it up towards the sky on the other. Hold each position for 5-10 seconds. Do this 10 times on both sides.
Stretching the piriformis muscle improves blood flow and relieves tension. Use the towel exercise to lengthen and relax this muscle. Lay on your stomach and place a rolled up towel under your forehead.
Place your arms by your side to support yourself as you lean forward. Slowly let your body weight sink down onto the towel. You should feel a mild stretch on the back of your thighs.
Stay in this position for 30 seconds. Do this three times.
Stretching out your hip flexors relieves tension and relaxes the muscles. To do this, stand up straight and place one leg forward with the knee slightly bent. Keep the other leg straight back and rest your foot lightly against a wall.
Gently push your hips forward until you feel mild tension under the thigh of your forward leg. Hold this position for 10 seconds and then repeat with the other leg.
If you’re able, place your hands on your hips to increase the stretch. Hold this position for 10 seconds. Do this three times each leg.
Piriformis syndrome causes a lot of tension in the hip and low back areas. To combat this, you should regularly perform the following stretches:
Begin by standing up straight with your legs together. Slowly bend forward from your hips as you reach your hands down towards your feet. Hold this position for 10 seconds and then relax.
Slowly bend to the left and then the right and hold each side for 10 seconds.
Piriformis syndrome is a very common reason for people to complain of aching pain in the hip or sciatic nerve. Luckily, the condition is pretty easy to manage with the right stretches and strengthening program. To begin, you should warm up by doing some light jogging in place or jumping up and down.
Once you’re warm, start with the following exercises: leg lifts, hip raises, and straight leg lifts. Begin with 20 repetitions of each exercise at first and then work your way up to 50 repetitions as your muscles get stronger.
Begin by lying on your back with your knees bent. Crossing your legs brings added resistance while straight legs removes some of it. Hold a 5-pound weight in one hand and keep it lifted off of the ground throughout the exercise.
Keeping your back on the ground, raise your hips up as high as you can. Your knees should be bent at a 90-degree angle. Slowly lower your hips back to the ground.
Complete 20 repetitions and then switch arms and legs to work the other side.
Begin by lying on your back. Keeping your knees bent, slowly lift your legs up until they’re at a 90-degree angle. Hold this position for 10 seconds and then lower your legs back down.
Complete this exercise 20 times.
Strengthening your hip flexors is also an important way to combat piriformis syndrome. Lie on your stomach and place your hands beneath your chest to support yourself. Quickly lift your upper body off of the ground by bending your knees.
Do not use your arms to lift yourself.
It’s also important to make sure you aren’t doing anything that may be causing or contributing to your condition. For instance, if you have a job that requires you to sit at a desk for long periods of time and you don’t take breaks to stretch, then you’re much more likely to suffer from piriformis syndrome. Take frequent breaks from sitting and walk around.
If you have a job that requires you to stand, make sure you’re also taking breaks to stretch your legs out.
Make sure you get enough rest. When you’re suffering from piriformis syndrome, your body is in constant pain and it gets harder to fight off the stress and fatigue that comes with it. Try to get at least 8 hours of sleep every night and take a short nap during the day if possible.
Soaking in a hot bath can often help relax your muscles and provide temporary pain relief. Add a little epsom salt to your bath to help draw out some of the toxins in your body.
Over the counter pain relievers, like Advil or Tylenol, can help relieve your pain until you can see a doctor or until your hip feels better. Be careful though; if you take too much you can actually make your condition worse.
Piriformis syndrome doesn’t usually require a trip to the hospital unless you’re experiencing extreme pain or other serious symptoms. It’s important to remember that your hip muscles are simply fatigued and in need of rest.
While you’re resting, you should keep your leg elevated when possible and apply ice packs to the affected area for 20 minutes at a time every couple hours. Rest and ice can help alleviate the pain, but if you’ve been suffering from this condition for a long period of time, the tight muscles may be too fatigued to recover.
Piriformis syndrome can sometimes be caused by something as simple as overly tight hip flexors, which are the muscles in your legs that allow you to lift your knees toward your body. When these muscles are too tight, they can irritate your sciatic nerve and cause a lot of pain.
A trip to the hospital is usually only necessary when you experience extreme pain, loss of bowel or bladder control, or problems with your autonomic nervous system. While the autonomic nervous system controls most of the important processes in your body like your heartbeat or digestion, it can also impact things like your blood pressure and other major organ functions.
It’s important to see a doctor if you are experiencing any of the following symptoms along with sciatica or piriformis syndrome:
Heart palpitations or fluttering
Shortness of breath
Lightheadedness or dizziness
Problems with your vision, hearing, taste or smell
Urinating more frequently than usual, especially if it is dark yellow or brown in color
Weakness in one half of your body
Fainting or near fainting spells
Nausea or vomiting
Rest, over the counter pain medication and icing your piriformis muscle can help alleviate your pain if you don’t experience any of the more serious symptoms listed above. Make sure you see a doctor though if you start having severe pain or other symptoms as these can be signs of a more serious condition.
If you simply have tight hip flexors, your piriformis pain should go away after a few weeks of rest and taking it easy. However, if you keep experiencing pain when you sit or walk, even after taking time to rest and icing, you may want to see a doctor about your condition.
Many people experience piriformis pain at some point in their lives. If you’re experiencing mild pain and your symptoms are going away when you rest, there’s no reason to worry. Just remember to take it easy for a few weeks and try to get some rest.
If your pain continues or becomes more severe, however, or if you experience any of the symptoms listed above, you may want to see a medical professional. Often times a doctor can give you a shot of cortisone to alleviate your pain or give you tools to help stretch your hip flexors.
There’s no cure for piriformis syndrome and continued long-term sitting, such as driving a bus or sitting at a desk all day long for years, is likely to make your pain worse.
As with any injury or medical condition, it’s best to consult your doctor about the symptoms you’re experiencing. This guide is simply giving you general information about what piriformis syndrome is and what some common treatments are.
Do You Suffer From Sciatica?
Your sciatic nerve is one of the biggest nerves in your body. It runs from your lower back, down both of your legs. Because it is so long, it is prone to becoming pinched at various points as it makes its way down your legs.
Many times, the irritation that causes the most pain is due to a bulging or herniated disk, which can cause the sciatic nerve to become inflamed.
Your nerves are very fragile. They can become inflamed or pinched when you strain or damage a muscle in the area. This pinching of your sciatic nerve, also known as sciatica, can cause severe pain that starts in your lower back and travels down to your legs.
Another common cause of sciatica is a slipped disk. This occurs when one of the soft cushions between your spine pops out of place and jams into your sciatic nerve causing pain.
This pain is treated differently than piriformis syndrome. With sciatica, traction and anti-inflammatory medication is usually given to reduce swelling around the nerve. There are physical therapy treatments that can be used to stretch and strengthen your back and core muscles.
There is no cure for a herniated disk, but many people experience relief from their pain with these methods.
How long you will experience pain and how severe your pain is will vary depending on the individual and the treatment that is given. Many people suffer from long-term pain even after receiving treatment.
The next section will explain how to identify the symptoms of sciatica and how you can begin treating it using natural methods.
What Are The Symptoms Of Sciatica?
The biggest symptom of sciatica is radiating pain down the back of your leg and into your foot. This pain is often sharp or burning in nature and it only gets worse when you try to walk or put weight on your leg. Sciatica is often accompanied by numbness, tingling or weakness in the same leg.
Your condition can get better or worse depending on your position.
Sources & references used in this article:
Piriformis syndrome: a rational approach to management by PM Barton – Pain, 1991 – Elsevier
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Piriformis syndrome by JWT Byrd – Operative Techniques in Sports Medicine, 2005 – Elsevier
Piriformis syndrome by MR Foster – Orthopedics, 2002 – healio.com
Posttraumatic piriformis syndrome: diagnosis and results of operative treatment by ER Benson, SF Schutzer – JBJS, 1999 – journals.lww.com
Perisciatic injection of steroid for the treatment of sciatica due to piriformis syndrome by M Hanania, E Kitain – Regional anesthesia and pain medicine, 1998 – Elsevier
Botulinum toxin type B in piriformis syndrome by AM Lang – American journal of physical medicine & rehabilitation, 2004 – journals.lww.com
Piriformis syndrome, diagnosis and treatment by JS Kirschner, PM Foye, JL Cole – Muscle & nerve, 2009 – Wiley Online Library
BOTOX and physical therapy in the treatment of piriformis syndrome by LM Fishman, C Anderson, B Rosner – … of physical medicine & …, 2002 – journals.lww.com