What is Piriformis Syndrome?

What is piriformis syndrome?

The piriformis muscle is a narrow muscle found in the buttocks.

When a person suffers from piriformis syndrome, it causes buttock pain and spasms. Piriformis syndrome is sometimes mistaken for sciatica because the piriformis muscle can aggravate the sciatic nerve and cause tingling, numbness, and pain down the back of the leg to the foot.

Piriformis syndrome is defined as a neuromuscular condition believed to occur when this narrow muscle compresses the sciatic nerve. It is a muscle with the responsibility of stabilizing the hip joint and for lifting and rotating the thigh away from your body.

Its function allows people to shift their weight from one foot to the other, walk, and helps you maintain your balance. Therefore, virtually every movement of your hips and legs rely on the piriformis muscle.


The Piriformis Muscle

Deep inside the buttock region, behind the gluteus maximus, there is a small muscle called the piriformis.

About the piriformis muscle:

  • It starts at the low spine and is connected to the upper part of the femur, or thighbone.
  • Its function is to aid in hip rotation and in turning your leg and foot outward.
  • The piriformis muscle extends diagonally, and the sciatic nerve runs vertically underneath it. Sometimes the sciatic nerve runs through the muscle.

piriformis muscle


Causes of Piriformis Syndrome

The medical community has yet to find a cause of piriformis syndrome, but here are some educated guesses of suspected causes.

  • Bleeding in the proximity of the piriformis muscle
  • Piriformis muscle spasms because of an aggravated hip or sacroiliac joint or the piriformis muscle itself
  • Tightening of the piriformis muscle from a spasm or injury response
  • Swelling of the piriformis muscle because of spasm or injury

Any one of these causes or a combination of them can adversely affect the piriformis, resulting in buttocks pain and may also affect the nearby sciatic nerve, causing sciatica symptoms (i.e. tingling, pain, numbness down the back of the leg, into the calf, or in the foot.).

These symptoms often worsen with prolonged sitting, running, walking, or climbing stairs.

It’s important to note that sciatica is not caused by piriformis syndrome in most cases.


Piriformis Syndrome Diagnosis

The medical community has also not developed a reliable test to accurately diagnose this muscle disorder. In most instances, there is a history of injury or trauma in the region.

People who sit for long periods of time and those who are extremely active are at a higher risk for developing piriformis syndrome.

The only method of finding out if you have this condition is through a physical exam where you make various movements to create pain in the piriformis muscle. A tender or contracted piriformis muscle is usually found during a physical exam.


Self-Care and Treatments

Since there are no known root causes for piriformis syndrome, the treatments provided are designed more for treating the symptoms than for treating the root cause.

Self-care treatments may include special stretching exercises, massage, or taking pain relievers with anti-inflammatory properties.

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Under certain circumstances, surgical intervention may be required.


Final Thoughts

Only a medical professional with expertise in musculoskeletal medicine can determine whether you are having issues with your sciatic nerve or if you have piriformis syndrome. It cannot be diagnosed without a physical exam.

Getting the proper diagnosis is the best way to implement self-care or medical treatment. Otherwise, you could cause more harm than good trying to use the wrong method of treatment.

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