If you’ve been noticing numbness or pain in your buttocks region, it could be due to piriformis syndrome. A painful condition that develops due to irritation or compression of the sciatic nerve, piriformis syndrome can occur due to running and other repetitive exercises that use the legs. On the other hand, it can also be caused by prolonged periods of sitting and weakness in the piriformis and glute muscles. We’ve rounded up 8 stretches and exercises to help with piriformis syndrome.
What is Piriformis Syndrome?
Piriformis syndrome is an uncommon, painful condition that occurs due to irritation or compression of the sciatic nerve near the piriformis muscle. The piriformis is a muscle that extends from the front of the sacrum – the triangle-shaped bone between your two hip bones in your pelvis, across the sciatic nerve to the top of the femur. It helps enable your hip to rotate and allows your leg and foot to move outward. A piriformis muscle spasm can put pressure on the sciatic nerve and cause painful symptoms.
What Causes Piriformis Syndrome?
Although the exact cause of piriformis syndrome is unknown, there are a few things that are suspected to cause it:
- A piriformis muscle spasm due to irritation of the muscle itself or irritation of a nearby structure such as sacroiliac joint or hip
- Tightening or swelling of the piriformis muscle in response to injury or spasm
- Bleeding in the area of the piriformis muscle
- Overuse of the muscle from excessive exercise
- Running and other repetitive exercises that use the legs
- Sitting for extended periods
- Weakness in piriformis and glute muscles
What Are The Symptoms of Piriformis Syndrome?
The most common signs of piriformis syndrome are acute tenderness in the buttocks and sciatica-like pain down the back of the thigh, calf and foot. Symptoms often become worse after excessive sitting, walking or running. Below are signs that you may have piriformis syndrome:
- A dull pain, numbness or tingling in the buttocks
- Pain down the back of the thigh, calf and foot
- Pain when walking up stairs or inclines
- Increased pain after prolonged sitting
- Reduced range of motion of the hip joint
5 Tips To Prevent Piriformis Syndrome
1. Make sure to warm up before you run or engage in a rigorous workout
2. Gradually build up exercise intensity
3. Strength training, specifically targeting your glute muscles
4. Avoid running up and down hills or on uneven surfaces
5. Get up and move around if you’ve been sitting or lying down for a prolonged period of time. If possible, alternate between sitting and standing while working.
4 Stretches for Piriformis Syndrome
1. Pigeon Pose
Pigeon pose works as a hip opener and forward bend, stretching your thighs, groin, back, piriformis and psoas. Start on all fours, then bring your right knee forward to your right wrist. Your right ankle will be somewhere in front of your left hip. Slide your left leg back and point your toes, with your heel pointing up to the ceiling.
Scissor your hips together by drawing your legs towards each other, keeping your hips level. Inhale, coming onto your fingertips, lengthening your spine and opening your chest, and exhale walking your hands forward bringing your upper and lower body towards the floor. Rest your forearms and forehead on the mat and stay for 5 to 10 breaths. Repeat on the other side.
2. Standing Figure Four
The standing figure four stretch is a balancing pose that opens the hamstrings, quadriceps and glute muscles. It benefits your lower back, feet and ankles, hamstrings, hips, knees, pelvis and quadriceps. Begin in chair pose, taking several breaths with both feet grounded on the floor. Make sure your thighs are low and your weight is in your heels.
Bring your hands together at your heart and peel your right foot off the ground. Keep your left knee bent as you cross your right ankle over to rest on your left thigh just above your knee. Your legs should form a triangle shape. Hold for three to five breaths, release the leg to the floor and repeat on the other side.
3. Knee To Opposite Shoulder Stretch
This stretch loosens your gluteal and piriformis muscles. Begin by lying flat on your back with your feet flexed. Bend your right leg and clasp your hand around your knee. Gently pull your right leg across your body toward your left shoulder so you are in a twist. Hold it for 30 seconds, only pulling your knee as far as it will comfortably go. You should feel relief in your muscle, but not pain. Return to starting position, repeat for three reps, then switch to the other side.
4. Sitting Spinal Stretch
This stretch helps create space in the spine, releasing pressure on the sciatic nerve. Start sitting on the ground with your legs extended in front of you and your feet flexed upward. Bend your right knee and place it flat on the floor on the outside of your left knee. Place your left elbow on the outside of your right knee helping you gently turn your body to the right. Hold for 30 seconds, repeat three times and switch sides.
4 Exercises for Piriformis Syndrome
1. Lower Ab Strength Exercise
Begin lying on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Engage your stomach muscles by pulling your belly button in toward your spine. Lift your right foot off the floor, bringing your knee towards your chest and stop when it hits a right angle. Lift the left knee up to the same position. Lower one leg at a time to starting position. Alternate until you’ve lifted each leg eight to 12 times, making sure your abs are engaged and your lower back is flat on the floor.
2. Press Up Extension
This exercise will help relieve pain from piriformis syndrome. Start lying on your stomach and press the body up on the elbows while your pelvis remains in contact with the floor. Keep your lower back and buttocks relaxed and move up to the palm of your hands from your elbows if you can. Hold the press up position for five seconds when you’re starting out and work up to 30 seconds per repetition. Aim for 10 repetitions.
3. Bridge Pose
The bridge pose helps strengthen the pelvic muscles and sacroiliac joint. Start lying on your back with both knees bent and arms straight at your sides. Slowly raise your hips off the floor while engaging your core. Your body should form a straight line from your knees to your shoulders. Hold for five seconds then slowly lower your hips back down to the floor. Repeat eight to 10 times.
4. Bird Dog Exercise
The bird dog exercise also strengthens the sacroiliac joint and helps reduce excess motion that aggravates the sciatic nerve. It works the erector spinae, rectus abdominis and glutes. Start on all fours with hands directly under the shoulders and knees under the hips. Raise your right arm straight in front of your body and lift your left leg straight behind. Hold for five seconds and switch sides. Complete three to five repetitions on each side of the body.
If you’re dealing with piriformis syndrome, try out these stretches and exercises to treat it.
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