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
7. Hip Extension Exercise
1. Position yourself on all fours with your shoulders directly over your hands. Shift your weight a little off the leg to be worked.
2. Keeping the knee bent, raise the knee off the floor so that the sole of the foot moves towards the ceiling.
3. Slowly lower the leg, almost back to the starting position and repeat 15 times.
8. Supine Piriformis Side Stretch
1. Lie on the floor with the legs flat, and raise the affected leg by placing that foot on the floor outside the opposite knee.
2. Pull the knee of the bent leg directly across the midline of the body using the opposite hand or towel until a stretch is felt. Do not force anything and be gentle.
3. Hold the piriformis stretch for 30 seconds, then return to starting position and switch legs.
4. Aim for a total of 3 repetitions.
9. Buttocks Stretch for the Piriformis Muscle
1. Laying with your stomach on the ground, place the affected foot across and underneath the trunk of the body so that the affected knee is on the outside.
2. Extend the non-affected leg straight back behind the body and keep the pelvis straight. 3. Keeping the affected leg in place, move your hips back toward the floor and lean forward on the forearms until a deep stretch it felt.
4. Hold for 30 seconds to get a deep piriformis stretch, and then slowly return to starting position. Aim for a total of 3 stretches.
10. Seated Stretch
1. In seated position, cross your right leg over your left knee.
2. Bend slightly forward, making sure to keep your back straight.
3. Hold for 3-60 seconds and repeat on the other side.
Trigger Points and The Piriformis Muscle
There are many other natural and highly effective remedies for sciatic nerve pain. Trigger point therapy is one of them, and truly one of the best.
According to Myofascial Pain and Dysfunction: The Trigger Point Manual, written by doctors Janet Travell and David Simons, myofascial trigger points (tiny knot contractions) in overworked gluteus minimus and piriformis muscles in the buttocks are the main cause of sciatica and all the symptoms that come with it.
Picking up a copy of the book, or even following instruction in the video below can help release these knot contractions.