The piriformis muscle is a small muscle in the buttock near the top of the hip joint that connects the lower spine to the thighbone. Piriformis syndrome is a rare neuromuscular condition that causes spasms and pain in the buttock area or pain, numbness and tingling along the back of the leg as a result of nerve compression on the sciatic nerve.
The piriformis muscle stabilises the hip joint and can lift and rotate the thigh away from the body. It is used every day when walking but is exercised in almost every sport. The cause of Piriformis syndrome is suspected to be related to tightening, spasm or inflammation of the piriformis muscle due to blunt trauma to the buttocks, sports injuries, overuse, sprains, or long periods of inactivity or excessive exercise.
Those who sit for long periods of time, or participate in frequent, rigorous lower-body workouts are at risk of developing Piriformis syndrome.
Piriformis syndrome commonly causes symptoms of pain, aching and tenderness in the buttock. Since the sciatic nerve runs passed the piriformis muscle, this nerve can also become compressed by the muscle causing pain down the leg. Other symptoms may include:
- Numbness in the buttock
- Sciatica-like shooting pain down the back of the thigh, calf and foot
- Pain when walking up an incline
- Pain after prolonged sitting, walking or running
- Reduced range of motion in the hip
Depending on the severity of the symptoms, Piriformis syndrome may be treated differently. In most cases, treatment involves rest and activity modification, physiotherapy, muscle relaxants, pain and inflammatory medications. Certain kinds of stretches and exercises will then be useful in improving the strength and flexibility of the piriformis muscle. In more severe cases, injections of corticosteroids may be necessary to relieve inflammation and pain.
In rare cases where the piriformis is compressing the sciatic nerve, surgery may be needed to cut the piriformis muscle to ease pressure on the nerve.