According to WebMD, “The piriformis muscle is a flat, band-like muscle located in the buttocks near the top of the hip joint. This muscle is important in lower body movement because it stabilizes the hip joint and lifts and rotates the thigh away from the body. This enables us to walk, shift our weight from one foot to another, and maintain balance. It is also used in sports that involve lifting and rotating the thighs – in short, in almost every motion of the hips and legs.”
The piriformis is prone to trigger points, and if it becomes taut enough, it can press on the sciatic nerve, which usually runs underneath it but sometimes can run through it. Trigger points in the piriformis or an entrapped sciatic nerve can refer pain all the way down the leg. A tight piriformis may also torque the low back causing lumbar area pain as well. It’s a small muscle, but it can cause tremendous problems if it becomes taut or irritated.
Any number of things can cause the piriformis to become taut. Chief among these is sitting in one position for too long. If you have a job that requires sitting at a desk all day, chances are you know what a tight piriformis feels like. Likewise, activities that require climbing or repetitive motions like running, especially over uneven ground, can cause piriformis pain.
Massage is one of the best cures for piriformis pain, especially if you don’t wait until it becomes chronic. You can also use self-care strategies like rolling and pressing a tennis ball over the site or using a SacroWedgy®.
There a a number of good stretches for the piriformis as well. One is to lie on your back and to bend the knees. Cross the right leg over the left at the knee. Clasp your hands behind the bottom knee and pull both legs toward the chest. You should feel the stretch in the buttocks of the crossed leg. Repeat on the other side.
A variation of the above stretch is to sit in an chair, crossing your legs with one ankle over the knee of the other leg. Keeping your back straight, lean forward until you feel the stretch.
Another stretch is to kneel on the floor on hands and knees. Tuck the right knee under the body so that knee is in line with the left shoulder and straighten the left leg. Press the hips to the right until a gentle pull is felt in the right buttock. Repeat on the other side.
You don’t have to suffer with piriformis pain. Massage and self-care can keep you moving and help you avoid more serious problems like sciatic nerve entrapment.