Piriformis syndrome — overview and treatment options

Piriformis syndrome is the compression of the sciatic nerve in the back by a pulled or torn piriformis muscle in the groin.

The piriformis muscle is a small muscle in the groin area that connects the buttocks (sacrum) to the hip bone. The sciatic nerve is located next to the piriformis muscle in the lower back near the buttock. When the piriformis muscle is torn or pulled, or becomes spasmodic from overuse, the sciatic nerve next to the piriformis muscle might become impacted. This could cause radiating pain in the leg, buttock and foot if the sciatic nerve is severely impacted.

If you have constant pain in your buttock, leg and/or foot from your sciatic nerve, you should consult your physician about the cause of your pain. Your physician might order an MRI test to determine if piriformis syndrome is the cause of your sciatic pain. If so, there are several treatment options for piriformis pain to help relieve your symptoms.

Overview of piriformis syndrome

The piriformis muscle travels from the very lower back, near the groin and buttock, up to the hip bone. The purpose of this muscle is to help rotate and move the thigh. Essentially, the piriformis muscle is responsible for all thigh and hip movements, including walking, balancing and shifting weight. Because of its constant function in our daily lives, the piriformis muscle can sometimes be overworked and become stressed or injured.

When the piriformis muscle suffers an injury, it can put pressure on the sciatic nerve that runs next to, or sometimes though, the piriformis muscle. When the sciatic nerve is compressed, it may have difficulty sending muscle signals to the leg and foot on the compressed side of the body, resulting in pain, weakness or numbness in the aforementioned extremities.

Exercises and stretches to relieve piriformis syndrome

There are several conservative treatment options to relieve the pain and symptoms of piriformis syndrome, such as physical therapy, pain medication and chiropractic care. You can also find relief through at-home stretches to help lengthen the spine and pull the sciatic nerve away from the piriformis muscle. These stretches also serve to loosen the piriformis muscle if it is tight and cramped from overuse.

The most common stretches used to alleviate the pain of piriformis syndrome include:

  • Knee to chest stretch — Lie on your back with the heels of your feet on the ground. Slowly lift your right leg and bend your knee so that your knee is pointing upward and your heel is by your buttock. Gently grab your right knee with your hands and pull your knee toward your chest. Do not lift your chest or torso from the ground. Pull your knee as far into your chest as possible, without causing pain or discomfort. You should feel this stretching your buttock and lower back. Gently release your knee and return your right leg to the floor. Repeat this exercise, alternating legs.
  • Knee to side stretch — Lie on the floor with your legs extended and your heels on the ground. Slowly lift your right leg and bend your knee so that your knee is pointed upward and your heel is toward your buttock. Grab your knee with your left hand and gently pull your knee across your body so that your knee is now pointing to the left side of your body. Pull your knee over as far to the left as possible without causing pain or discomfort. You should feel this stretch your buttock, hamstring, and lower back. Gently release your knee and place your leg back on the ground. Repeat with the left leg.

For more information about treatment options for piriformis syndrome, please contact our care team at Laser Spine Institute. Our goal is to make sure that you are fully informed about your condition and the treatment options available to you based on your condition and medical history so you can make the best decision about your health care needs.