Low back pain is pretty common and is brought on by a variety of causes. It can be triggered by lifting heavy things, not being physically active, and surprisingly, the piriformis muscle. Now, most of us haven’t even heard about this muscle until now. The muscle sits just behind the gluteus maximus and connects the top part of the femur with the spine. It’s quite important for many movements, and if it’s somehow pulled or inflamed, it can cause immense pain.
What Exactly is the Piriformis Muscle?
The piriformis muscle allows our hips, upper leg, and feet to move outward the body. It also sits in front of the sciatic nerve and shields it from injury. In some cases, the sciatic nerve runs through the piriformis muscle, which is unfortunate as it increases the risk of a painful condition known as sciatica.
Although very important for certain movements, the piriformis also plays a part in our balance. It works together with the gluteus maximus and psoas muscles to keep us stable, so when it gets injured, it’s not uncommon to lose balance.
The main problem associated with the piriformis muscle is known as piriformis syndrome, although it’s often overlooked and misdiagnosed. It’s quite a difficult condition to pinpoint, and even when it’s properly diagnosed, it’s often mistreated. Piriformis syndrome requires special medical care due to its location. The muscle is hard to see even on clear MRI scans, which makes matters worse.
Up until the late 1940s, the piriformis syndrome wasn’t even identified. It was usually diagnosed as lower back pain, but things have later changed. Advances in medicine and technology now allow doctors to diagnose the problem easier and prescribe proper treatment.
The most common symptoms associated with piriformis syndrome are numbness and tingling in the legs and of course, severe pain in the lower back due to the pressure the muscle puts on the sciatic nerve. An inflamed piriformis can make it quite unpleasant to sit down or walk and can be quite hard to solve. In general, doctors recommend physical therapy and painkillers, with surgery for extreme cases. Due to our physical inactivity nowadays and prolonged periods of sitting, piriformis stretches and pulls are becoming more and more common along with sciatica.
The good news is that physical therapy works in most of the cases. Additionally, we’re going to present a few simple stretches that can do wonders for your inflamed or pulled piriformis muscle and reduce the pain. Of course, before performing them, we suggest talking to a doctor as they can aggravate the problem if performed incorrectly.
Simple Piriformis Stretches
Supine Piriformis Stretch
Lay down on your back and bend one knee, putting one of your arms on it, and the other on a slightly raised heel. Now, raise the knee towards your shoulder, then cross the calf across your body in direction of your other shoulder. Feel the stretch and hold for 5 seconds, then repeat on the other side. You should hold for at least 5 seconds in the beginning, and up to a minute as you get more comfortable.
If you want a deeper stretch, bend both knees while lying on your back, then cross one ankle over the opposite leg. Start raising the leg from the bottom towards your chest until you feel the stretch, then hold for 5-10 seconds.
Standing Piriformis Stretch
The standing piriformis stretch is similar to the previous exercise, except you’re obviously standing. Lean on a wall and cross one of your ankles over the other knee, then lower your chest and lean forward until you’re parallel to the ground. As soon as you feel a stretch in the glutes, hold the position for as long as you can.
Long and Short Adductor Stretches
Do you know what the adductors are? These muscles are located in the inner thigh – the long adductors are connected to the knee, while the short ones are connected to the femur and pelvis. As they are connected to the pelvis and our legs, stretching them should provide relief when dealing with a pulled piriformis muscle.
To perform the long adductor stretch, sit on the floor and open up your legs, then put your hands between them and slowly tilt your chest forward moving from the hips. Go down until your elbows are on the floor, hold for 20 seconds, then relax and repeat.
To stretch the short adductors, sit on the floor and put your soles together, then press them gently down with your elbows until you feel a stretch. If you can, lean forward as well, but keep your back straight. Hold the position for 30-60 seconds, then relax for a minute or two and repeat.
Simple exercises such as the hip extension can do wonders for your injured piriformis muscle. Go down on all fours, keeping your hands at hips width apart. Now, lift one of your legs up with a bent knee – make sure that sole is pointing up the ceiling. Put the raised leg back down and repeat the movement 15-20 times.
Besides these exercises, you can also search online for the lying clam exercise, supine piriformis side stretches or other exercises that can provide relief from muscle pain. The same exercises will also help you in cases of sciatica, so if you’re suffering from one or both of these painful conditions, these exercises can really help.