Piriformis Syndrome and Effective Piriformis Stretches
By Brad Walker
Piriformis syndrome is a condition in which the piriformis muscle becomes tight or spasms, and irritates the sciatic nerve. This causes pain in the buttocks region and may even result in referred pain in the lower back and thigh. Patients often complain of pain deep within the hip and buttocks, and for this reason, piriformis syndrome has also been referred to as "Deep Buttock" syndrome.
What is the Piriformis?
The piriformis is a small muscle located deep within the hip and buttocks region. It connects the sacrum (lower region of the spine) to the top of the femur (thigh bone) and aids in external rotation (turning out) of the hip joint.
As you can see from the diagram to the right, there are many muscles and tendons that make up the hip and buttocks region. The diagram shows the posterior (rear) view of the buttock. The piriformis is the horizontal muscle in the center of the picture running over the top of the sciatic nerve.
What Causes Piriformis Syndrome?
Piriformis syndrome is predominantly caused by a shortening or tightening of the piriformis muscle, and while many things can be attributed to this, they can all be categorized into two main groups: Overload (or training errors); and Biomechanical Inefficiencies.
Overload (or training errors): Piriformis syndrome is commonly associated with sports that require a lot of running, change of direction or weight bearing activity. However, piriformis syndrome is not only found in athletes. In fact, a large proportion of reported cases occur in people who lead a sedentary lifestyle. Other overload causes include:
Exercising on hard surfaces, like concrete;
Exercising on uneven ground;
Beginning an exercise program after a long lay-off period;
Increasing exercise intensity or duration too quickly;
Exercising in worn out or ill fitting shoes; and
Sitting for long periods of time.
Biomechanical Inefficiencies: The major biomechanical inefficiencies contributing to piriformis syndrome are faulty foot and body mechanics, gait disturbances and poor posture or sitting habits. Other causes can include spinal problems like herniated discs and spinal stenosis. Other biomechanical causes include:
Poor running or walking mechanics;
Tight, stiff muscles in the lower back, hips and buttocks;
Running or walking with your toes pointed out.
Pain (or a dull ache) is the most common and obvious symptom associated with piriformis syndrome. This is most often experienced deep within the hip and buttocks region, but can also be experienced anywhere from the lower back to the lower leg.
Weakness, stiffness and a general restriction of movement are also quite common in sufferers of piriformis syndrome. Even tingling and numbness in the legs can be experienced.
Piriformis syndrome is a soft tissue injury of the piriformis muscle and therefore should be treated like any other soft tissue injury. Immediately following an injury, or at the onset of pain, the R.I.C.E.R. regime should be employed. This involves Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation, and Referral to an appropriate professional for an accurate diagnosis.
It is critical that the R.I.C.E.R. regime be implemented for at least the first 48 to 72 hours. Doing this will give you the best possible chance of a complete and full recovery.
The next phase of treatment (after the first 48 to 72 hours) involves a number of physiotherapy techniques. The application of heat and massage is one of the most effective treatments for removing scar tissue and speeding up the healing process of the muscles and tendons.
Once most of the pain has been reduced, it is time to move onto the rehabilitation phase of your treatment. The main aim of this phase is to regain the strength, power, endurance and flexibility of the muscles and tendons that have been injured.
For a complete and comprehensive article on the treatment of soft tissue injuries, please visit http://www.thestretchinghandbook.com/archives/sports-injuries.htm.
Prevention is the key when it comes to piriformis syndrome. The more you can do to prevent it, the better off you'll be. There are a number of preventative techniques that will help to prevent piriformis syndrome, including modifying equipment or sitting positions, taking extended rests and even learning new routines for repetitive activities. However, there are four preventative measures that I feel are far more important and effective.
Firstly, a thorough and correct warm up will help to prepare the muscles and tendons for any activity to come. Without a proper warm up the muscles and tendons will be tight and stiff. There will be limited blood flow to the hip area, which will result in a lack of oxygen and nutrients for the muscles. This is a sure-fire recipe for a muscle or tendon injury.
Before any activity be sure to thoroughly warm up all the muscles and tendons that will be used during your sport or activity. For a detailed explanation of how, why and when to perform your warm up, visit http://www.thestretchinghandbook.com/archives/warm-up.htm.
Secondly, rest and recovery are extremely important; especially for athletes or individuals whose lifestyle involves strenuous physical activity. Be sure to let your muscles rest and recover after heavy physical activity.
Thirdly, strengthening and conditioning the muscles of the hips, buttocks and lower back will also help to prevent piriformis syndrome.
And fourthly, (and most importantly) flexible muscles and tendons are extremely important in the prevention of most strain or sprain injuries. When muscles and tendons are flexible and supple, they are able to move and perform without being over stretched. If however, your muscles and tendons are tight and stiff, it is quite easy for those muscles and tendons to be pushed beyond their natural range of movement. When this happens, strains, sprains, and pulled muscles occur.
To keep your muscles and tendons flexible and supple, it is important to undertake a structured stretching routine. I've included two effective piriformis stretches below, but for an easy-to-use, quick reference guide of more than 100 clear photographs of every possible sports related stretch, for every major muscle group in your body, get a copy of The Stretching Handbook. If you're interested in stretches for the hips, buttocks and lower back, The Stretching Handbook has detailed photographs of 18 different stretches you can do. Learn more about The Stretching Handbook here.
Sit with one leg straight out in front. Hold onto the ankle of your other leg and pull it directly towards your chest.
Lie face down and bend one leg under your stomach, then lean towards the ground.
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