What is piriformis syndrome?
Piriformis syndrome refers to irritation of the sciatic nerve as it passes through or next to the piriformis muscle located deep in the buttock. Inflammation of the sciatic nerve, called sciatica, causes pain in the back of the hip that can often travel down into the leg.
How does it occur?
The piriformis muscle is located deep in the buttock and pelvis and allows you to rotate your thigh outward. The sciatic nerve travels from your back into your leg by passing through or next to the piriformis muscle. If the piriformis muscle is unusually tight or if it goes into spasm, the sciatic nerve can become inflamed or irritated. Piriformis syndrome may also be related to intense downhill running.
What are the symptoms?
You have pain deep in your buttock that may feel like a burning pain. The pain usually travels down across your lower thigh. Your pain may increase when you move your thigh outward, such as when you are sitting cross-legged.
How is it diagnosed?
Your healthcare provider will talk to you about when your symptoms began. Since your sciatic nerve begins in the back, it can be irritated from a back injury, such as a herniated disk. Your provider will ask if you have had any injuries to your back or hip. He or she will examine your back to see if the sciatic nerve is irritated there. He or she will examine your hip and legs and move them to see if movement causes increased pain.
Your healthcare provider may order X-rays, a computed tomography (CT) scan, or a magnetic resonance image (MRI) of your back to see if there is a back injury. There are no X-ray tests that can detect if the nerve is being irritated at the piriformis muscle.
How is it treated?
Treatment may include:
How long will the effects last?
The length of recovery depends on many factors such as your age, health, and if you have had a previous piriformis injury. Recovery time also depends on the severity of the injury. A mild injury may recover within a few weeks, whereas a severe injury may take 6 weeks or longer to recover. You need to stop doing the activities that cause pain until your muscle has healed. If you continue doing activities that cause pain, your symptoms will return and it will take longer to recover.
When can I return to my normal activities?
Everyone recovers from an injury at a different rate. Return to your activities will be determined by how soon your nerve recovers, not by how many days or weeks it has been since your injury has occurred. In general, the longer you have symptoms before you start treatment, the longer it will take to get better. The goal of rehabilitation is to return you to your normal activities as soon as is safely possible.
You may safely return to your activities when, starting from the top of the list and progressing to the end, each of the following is true:
How I prevent piriformis syndrome?
Piriformis syndrome is best prevented by stretching the muscles that rotate your thigh inward and outward. It is important to have a good warm-up before starting your sport or activity.
Written by Pierre Rouzier, M.D., for McKesson Corporation
Piriformis Syndrome Rehabilitation Exercises
You may do all of these exercises right away.
Written by Tammy White, MS, PT, and Phyllis Clapis, PT, DHSc, OCS, for McKesson Corporation