Many people suffer from lower back pain that spreads downward to the limbs and feet. This can often be alleviated by doing a deep piriformis stretch – a stretch that releases tight piriformis muscles, and relaxes the sciatic nerve.
Constriction of the piriformis muscle can irritate the sciatic nerve because they lay in close proximity to each other. By irritating the sciatic nerve, the result is pain (either in the lower back or thigh), numbness and tingling along the back of the leg and into the foot.
What Is The Piriformis?
The piriformis muscle is a small muscle located deep in the buttock, behind the gluteus maximus. It connects the spine to the top of the femur and allows incredible flexibility in the hip region (it’s the main muscle that allows for outward movement of the hip, upper leg and foot from the body).
The sciatic nerve passes underneath this muscle on its route to the posterior thigh. However, in some individuals, the sciatic nerve can actually pass right through the muscle, leading to sciatica symptoms caused by a condition known as piriformis syndrome.
Unfortunately, for a lot of individuals, their sciatic nerve passes through the piriformis muscle, leaving them with pain that just won’t go away (as well as poor mobility and balance).
Causes of Piriformis Syndrome
The exact causes of piriformis syndrome are unknown. The truth is, is that many medical professionals can’t determine a cause, so they cannot really diagnose it. Even with modern imaging techniques, the piriformis is difficult to identify.
Lower back pain caused by an impinged piriformis muscle accounts for 6-8% of those experiencing back pain (1).
Suspected causes of piriformis syndrome include (2):
– Tightening of the muscle, in response to injury or spasm
– Swelling of the piriformis muscle, due to injury or spasm
– Irritation in the piriformis muscle itself
– Irritation of a nearby structure such as the sacroiliac joint or hip
– Bleeding in the area of the piriformis muscle
Any one of the above can affect the piriformis muscle, as well as the adjacent sciatic nerve.
Also, a misaligned or inflamed piriformis can cause difficult and pain while sitting and when changing positions (from sitting to standing). I actually stretched too far in a yoga pose once, and irritated my piriformis muscle – this took about 1-2 years to fully heal. Whenever I sat down, or went from sitting to standing, I experienced major pain. While it was a bit of a pain in the butt (pardon the bun), I just stuck with stretching and trigger point release and eventually it went away.
10 Deep Piriformis Stretches
This piriformis stretch guide is great for alleviating pain and a triggered sciatic nerve.
It is important to note, too, that over-stretching can actually make the condition worse. Light, gentle stretching is best. “No pain, no gain” does NOT apply here. I over-stretched my piriformis and that’s what made it inflamed for 1-2 years (because I was still doing yoga daily, and over-doing it in stretches).
Make sure you warm up your muscles before you stretch, because you can create a different injury. To warm up, simply walk or march in place or climb up and down a flight of stairs slowly for a few minutes before stretching.
Exercising and stretching the piriformis is well worth it – try it now with these 10 deep piriformis stretches: