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Piriformis Syndrome

Piriformis syndrome is a rare pain disorder that involves the narrow piriformis muscles located on either side of the upper buttocks. The muscle’s primary purpose is to rotate the hip externally — i.e. turning the hip so the knee points away from the other leg. The sciatic nerve is a large nerve that runs from the lower back down the back of the legs. In most people the sciatic nerve passes behind the piriformis, but in some it goes through the piriformis. If the piriformis presses on the sciatic nerve, the nerve can become compromised, resulting in severe pain.

Piriformis Syndrome Hero Image 2

Piriformis syndrome is a rare pain disorder that involves the narrow piriformis muscles located on either side of the upper buttocks. The muscle’s primary purpose is to rotate the hip externally — i.e. turning the hip so the knee points away from the other leg. The sciatic nerve is a large nerve that runs from the lower back down the back of the legs. In most people the sciatic nerve passes behind the piriformis, but in some it goes through the piriformis. If the piriformis presses on the sciatic nerve, the nerve can become compromised, resulting in severe pain.

What causes Piriformis Syndrome?

Everytime you move your lower body, the piriformis muscle is involved. This muscle can become irritated and inflamed due to overuse. This can cause the muscle to spasm or swell, putting pressure on the sciatic nerve. A direct trauma to the muscle, for example due to a fall in sports, can also cause piriformis syndrome.

Piriformis syndrome is most common in these sports:

• Running
• Soccer
• Lacrosse

Symptoms

Piriformis syndrome typically causes pain on one side of the lower back, in the buttocks area. Common symptoms also include:
• Pain that gets worse when walking, running, climbing stairs, or sitting for long periods of time
• Tenderness and a dull ache in the buttocks
• Tingling or numbness in the legs and calves
• Difficulty sitting

When to see a doctor

Athletes with symptoms of piriformis syndrome should see their doctor if their symptoms persist for several weeks. At your visit, you will be asked to describe your symptoms and physical activity. A physical examination will include evaluating the range of motion in your hip and back. Your physician will perform other physical examination tests to rule out other conditions.

Diagnosing piriformis syndrome can be challenging. Doctors frequently use imaging tests, such as x-rays and CT scans, to rule out other causes of symptoms. These tests may be ordered to rule out sciatica (inflammation of the sciatic nerve in the lower back) or problems with your hip, like as tendonitis, arthritis, or stress fractures.

Non-operative treatment

Treatment of piriformis syndrome usually involves avoiding activity that aggravates pain. This may involve resting from sporting activities or avoiding sitting for long periods of time. Conservative treatments may also include:

• Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen and naproxen, to relieve pain
• Muscle relaxants to relieve pain and spasm
• Applications of moist heat
• Physical therapy exercises to strengthen muscles and improve flexibility

In some cases, an ultrasound-guided corticosteroid injection may be helpful for relieving pain. For cases of severe pain, your doctor may recommend electrical stimulation of the muscles to block pain.

You can also try these exercises at home:

Piriformis Syndrome

Surgical Treatment

In rare cases, when conservative treatments are not effective, your doctor may recommend surgery to release the piriformis muscle.

Recovery

Your doctor may advise limited activity during your recovery period. Oftentimes, piriformis syndrome may take many weeks to resolve. Your doctor and physical therapist will work with you to develop an exercise and stretching program to help get you ready for a full return to play.

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