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Piriformis Muscle - What A Pain In The Butt!

Jul 07, 2018 12:00AM

By Kelsey Casselbury

Have you ever had an ache in your backside that felt like it was coming from deep within your glutes? If you’re a runner, cyclist or do other forms of repetitive athletics, you probably have—and it’s hard to know what the cause of this somewhat-debilitating pain is. Spoiler alert: It’s your piriformis muscle, a small, pear-shaped muscle that’s situated behind the hip socket and plays a role in rotating and flexing your legs during nearly all lower-body activities. When it gets irritated or compressed, it’s a total pain in the rear. 

Truthfully, this pain isn’t relegated solely to those who are active; the piriformis muscle can also flare up in those who are sedentary when it becomes compressed from sitting too much. Here’s why: The piriformis bumps right up to the sciatic nerve—and, in a small number of people, it pierces the sciatic nerve—and, when the piriformis gets aggravated, so does the sciatic nerve. If you’ve ever experienced sciatica, you know the ouch factor there. 

Of course, nothing with anatomy is ever easy, and piriformis syndrome, as it’s called, is no exception. It’s pretty hard to diagnose piriformis syndrome, and it’s usually a diagnosis of exclusion. There are a couple of tests, however, that a physical therapist or sports medicine doctor can perform if it’s something you want to know definitively. 

When you’re afflicted, there’s one stretch you can do to really work it (see the box for a how-to). Rolling it out with a foam roller, or even a tennis or lacrosse ball, can really dig into the muscle and pinpoint the pain. However, to truly resolve the problem, you need to strengthen the surrounding muscles through a host of lower-body exercises, such as lunges, deadlifts, and squats. A few more tips that will help calm down the aggravated muscle: Make sure you stand up every hour or so (try a standing desk) so that the piriformis muscle has some time to relieve the compression. Additionally, when you exercise, take the time to warm up properly, and when increasing the frequency or intensity of your workout, do so just a littleat a time. 

Lying Piriformis Stretch

Lie on your back on a mat and pull one knee across your chest, so it points toward the opposite shoulder.

Hold it there for about 15 seconds; you should feel that stretch right in the piriformis. 

Release and repeat on the other side.

You can also perform this stretch while sitting. Cross one leg over the other and pull your foot toward your upper thigh. Bend your torso over your knee slightly, and you’ll feel that same glute stretch.