How To Get Rid of Sciatica, Hip & Lower Back Pain with Piriformis Stretches
7 piriformis stretches to relieve sciatica fast!
One of the the most common problems I see at Ascent Chiropractic every week is sciatica – low back pain that spreads down to the legs and feet. While there are several potential causes of inflammation of the sciatic nerve, one common cause is something called piriformis syndrome.
Because the piriformis muscle sits directly on top of the sciatica nerve, tightness or constriction of the piriformis often results in pain (either in the low back, thigh or groin) along with numbness and tingling into the back of the leg and foot. There’s usually considerable pain while sitting and when changing positions from sitting to standing.
What is the piriformis muscle?
The piriformis is a small muscle located deep in your butt under the gluteus maximus. It connects the sacrum (or tailbone) to the top of your femur (upper leg) and allows for incredible flexibility in the hip. It’s the main muscle that allows you to turn your leg outwards.
Studies have shown that the piriformis muscle actually accounts for 6-8% of low back pain cases. So what causes tightness or constriction of this muscle?
While piriformis syndrome can be caused directly by sports injuries or lifting injuries to the muscle, it most often starts with misalignment in the sacroiliac joint that causes local inflammation and throws off the balance and stability of the pelvis.
When the pelvis is unbalanced, there’s considerably more torque placed on the piriformis muscle. This is, more often than not, the cause of piriformis syndrome and the sciatic nerve pain that comes with it.
7 piriformis stretches & exercises for sciatica
Thankfully, there are some easy stretches that can help calm the inflammation of piriformis syndrome until you can make an appointment your chiropractor to correct the cause of the irritation. A reminder that ‘no pain, no gain’ does not apply here – while these exercises are safe for the majority of back pain sufferers, if they exacerbate your pain stop immediately. Don’t overdo these stretches and make things worse. Warm up before you start with a quick walk or by climbing a few sets of stairs.
After you’re done with the warm-up, here are the 7 best piriformis stretches for sciatica.
Supine Piriformis Stretch
- Lie down with your knees bent upwards.
- Cross your affected leg over the other leg, by bending it upwards toward your chest.
- Grab your the back of your thigh and pull slowly towards your shoulder until you feel a stretch through the glutes in the buttock.
- Hold for 30 seconds and release.
Note that you shouldn’t feel a pinch in the front of your thigh. If you do, you will need to stretch or foam roll your hip flexors first. If you don’t feel a stretch in the glutes, cross your legs as in step 2 and pull the leg which is sitting on the floor by grabbing behind your thigh and pulling your leg toward your chest.
Standing Piriformis Stretch
- While standing, place the affected leg over the other leg’s knee or on a raised surface to get what looks like the number 4.
- Slowly lower your hips toward the ground while bending your standing leg’s knee.
- Lean forward with your torso and extend your arms parallell to the ground, while keeping your spine straight at all times.
- Hold for 30-60 seconds, and switch legs when done.
Outer Hip Piriformis Stretch
- Lie on your back and bend the affected leg upward by placing your foot close to the back of the other leg’s knee. Support your knee off the ground with a foam roller or pillow if necessary.
- Tuck your foot behind the other leg’s knee and twist your leg to the opposite side with the knee facing or touching the ground.
- Place the hand which is on the side where the knee is (if you’re stretching your right leg, place the left hand on the knee) and raise the other arm in the air.
- Slowly start lowering your other arm toward the opposite direction of the knee, with the intent to touch the shoulder to the ground.
- Hold for 20 seconds and switch legs.
- Return to the lying position and stretch both legs. Bend the two knees together and gently pull them with your hands toward your chest.
You won’t be able to touch your shoulder to the ground at first. The purpose of this exercise is to achieve a stretch in the piriformis muscle, and any stretch that is comfortable is enough.
Short Adductor (Inner Thigh) Stretch
- While sitting on the ground, put the soles of your feet together in front of your pelvis.
- Hold your ankles with the opposite hands (left hand – right ankle and vice versa).
- Gently push downward with your knees with the effort to touch the ground with them. You need to stop right before any pain occurs, which means that if you feel pain, get back an inch or two and stay there.
- Hold for 30 seconds, release, and flutter your legs in that position (like a butterfly) for 30 seconds.
Side Lying Clam Exercise
- Lay on your side, with the affected hip on top.
- Bend your legs backward to achieve an L shape, while keeping one foot over the other and your legs parallel to each other.
- Make sure your body and spine are not bent in any way, and that your affected hip is directly on top of the other.
- Keeping your feet together, raise the top knee upward, while paying attention that the body remains in the original position.
- Return the knee to the initial position slowly. Repeat 15 times.
Piriformis Mobility Ball Myofascial Release
- Place a lacrosse ball or tennis ball under the affected buttock and tilt toward the outside.
- Roll around slowly until you find a tender point. Roll over it while breathing deeply, until the pain disappears.
- Keep rolling the entire piriformis muscle until all tender points are gone.
Seated Piriformis Stretch
- Sit on a chair and cross the affected leg over your other leg’s knee.
- Bring your chest forward and bend slightly forward, while keeping your spine straight at all times.
- Hold for a couple of breaths and try to bend a bit further (if you don’t feel pain).
- Stay in this position for about 30 seconds and slowly release. Repeat with the other leg.
The Ascent Chiropractic Advantage
Suffering from sciatica? While stretches can help with temporary relief, long-term relief can’t happen without correcting the root cause of the problem. At Ascent Chiropractic in Brookfield, we utilize a low-force, non-invasive, conservative approach to treating sciatica, piriformis syndrome and pelvic dysfunction for our patients in Brookfield, Wauwatosa, New Berlin & surrounding areas. To make an appointment at Ascent Chiropractic, call 262-345-4166 or schedule an appointment with our online scheduling app.
Really interesting. What about knee pain? I’ve found this program really useful for knee pain.