Is Piriformis Syndrome Getting on Your (Sciatic) Nerve?

Characterized by tingling, numbness and pain deep in the buttock, piriformis syndrome describes what happens when the piriformis muscle, a muscle located in the buttocks near the top of the hip that stabilizes the hip joint and enables us to walk, shift our weight from one foot to another and maintain balance, compresses the sciatic nerve. Contractions of this muscle can compress the thick, long sciatic nerve that passes alongside or goes through the piriformis and travels down the back of the leg to eventually branch off into smaller nerves into the back of the leg and foot.

Symptoms of piriformis syndrome include pain, tingling or numbness in your rear end that may lead to a shooting pain down the back of your legs and into the feet, and increasingly limited range of motion in your hips.This can be triggered by

  • sitting for long periods of time
  • walking up hills or stairs
  • running
  • standing or sitting after lying down
  • poor body mechanics and posture
  • gait problems

Some experts believe that the syndrome stems from tightness of the piriformis and its corresponding tendon; others suspect the pain is actually caused by an undiagnosed spine issue or herniated disk. After other conditions are ruled out, your physician may recommend physical therapy to alleviate pain and improve your range of motion.

To reduce any pressure on the sciatic nerve, we may use ice, heat and ultrasound before beginning a thorough stretching and strengthening program focused on the piriformis, the hamstrings and hip extensors. You can help prevent injury or strain to the piriformis muscle by avoiding positions that trigger pain or running on hills or uneven surfaces, as well as by being diligent about stretching properly. Avoid overuse by listening to your body when it tells you to stop. Otherwise, you may end up with a real pain in the—er—piriformis.