Hip and lower back pain can come as a result of an irritation of the sciatic nerve. This pain can spread downwards and can affect the limbs and the feet. It is something many people suffer from, and the pain can affect your daily routine.
What Is The Piriformis?
The piriformis muscle is a small muscle located deep in the buttock, behind the gluteus maximus. It connects the spine to the top of the femur and allows incredible flexibility in the hip region (it’s the main muscle that allows for outward movement of the hip, upper leg and foot from the body).
The sciatic nerve passes underneath this muscle on its route to the posterior thigh. However, in some individuals, the sciatic nerve can actually pass right through the muscle, leading to sciatica symptoms caused by a condition known as piriformis syndrome.
Unfortunately, for a lot of individuals, their sciatic nerve passes through the piriformis muscle, leaving them with pain that just won’t go away (as well as poor mobility and balance).
Causes of Piriformis Syndrome
The exact causes of piriformis syndrome are unknown. The truth is, is that many medical professionals can’t determine a cause, so they cannot really diagnose it. Even with modern imaging techniques, the piriformis is difficult to identify.
Lower back pain caused by an impinged piriformis muscle accounts for 6-8% of those experiencing back pain.
Suspected causes of piriformis syndrome include:
Tightening of the muscle, in response to injury or spasm – Swelling of the piriformis muscle, due to injury or spasm – Irritation in the piriformis muscle itself – Irritation of a nearby structure such as the sacroiliac joint or hip – Bleeding in the area of the piriformis muscle
Any one of the above can affect the piriformis muscle, as well as the adjacent sciatic nerve.
Also, a misaligned or inflamed piriformis can cause difficult and pain while sitting and when changing positions (from sitting to standing). I actually stretched too far in a yoga pose once, and irritated my piriformis muscle – this took about 1-2 years to fully heal. I had major pain while sitting, and when changing positions from sitting to standing. I remember it being a huge pain in the butt (pardon the bun), but I just stuck with stretching and trigger point release and eventually it went away.
Exercises for Alleviating Sciatica Pain
Serving as pain relief exercises, there are some piriformis stretches that you can try. It’s important to note that you must stay within the comfort limits. This means that in this case, no pain IS gain. If you take it even a bit further, you may complicate your condition.
Also, before you stretch you must warm up. You can do this by taking a walk, marching in place, or climbing up and down a flight of stairs slowly. Whatever warm-up activity you choose, you will need to do it a few minutes before starting the stretches.
After you’re done with the warm-up, here are the 10 piriformis stretches for sciatica relief – they are worth it.
Please note that these exercises must be done within the comfort zone of your body. Any unnecessary pain can lead to complications, so don’t overdo the stretches.
IMPORTANT: Before starting any type of stretches and exercises, you should always consult your spine specialist first.
1. Supine Piriformis Stretch
1. Lie on your back with your legs flat.
2. Pull the affected leg toward the chest, holding the knee with the hand on the same side of the body and grabbing the ankle with the other hand.
3. Pull the knee towards the opposite shoulder until stretch is felt.
4. Hold for 30 seconds, then slowly return to starting position.
There are many variations of this stretch, but here is a good video to demonstrate:
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