Anatomy Lessons: Piriformis

More muscle talk! I have recently been dealing with some lower back pain so the common culprits (like the sciatic nerve) have been on my mind.

The piriformis is a muscle in the gluteal region (yep, that’s your butt). The piriformis muscle is a flat, band-like muscle near the top of the hip joint. This muscle stabilizes the hip joint and lifts and rotates the thigh away from the body enabling us to walk, shift our weight from one foot to another, and maintain balance. This muscles is involved in almost every motion of the hips and legs.

A condition that can be caused by this muscle is piriformis syndrome. This syndrome occurs when the piriformis irritates the sciatic nerve, which is a thick and long nerve in the body that passes alongside or goes through the piriformis muscle, down the back of the leg, and eventually branches off into smaller nerves that end in the feet. Nerve compression can be caused by spasm of the piriformis muscle.

Massage, stretching and foam rolling can all be used to treat tightness in the piriformis. Here are some exercises that can help stretch the piriformis:

  • Stretch Piriformis Longsit – There are several variations of this stretch but I found the seated version to be the easiest. Sit with right knee bent,, placing your right ankle to outside of left leg. Grasp right knee and pull thigh across chest toward left shoulder. Relax, repeat with left leg. Perform 1 set of 10 repetitions
  • Pigeon Pose – Click the link for a detailed description. This is one of my favorite yoga poses!
  • Foam rolling for piriformis – Begin positioned seated on foam roller with foot crossed to opposite knee. Roll on the posterior (back) hip/buttock area. Increase the stretch by pulling the knee toward the opposite shoulder.

For more information on yoga poses for piriformis check out Yoga Journal. Vimeo and YouTube also have many tutorials for stretching and foam rolling.

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