What is Piriformis Syndrome?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

The piriformis muscle is located in part behind the joint of the hip. In piriformis syndrome it is thought this muscle may cause compression on the sciatic nerve, though there is some scientific argument regarding whether this is the root cause of the syndrome. What occurs though, as a result of creating compression on the sciatic nerve is that the sciatic nerve becomes extremely irritated resulting in pain or tingling in the buttocks. This pain may occasionally be felt in the lower back, or down the thigh and it may be especially noticeable if you are seated or climbing up stairs.

A chiropractor might manipulate muscles to alleviate piriformis syndrome.
A chiropractor might manipulate muscles to alleviate piriformis syndrome.

People who have piriformis syndrome have sciatica, though the syndrome is just one cause, and again there are several theories as to why some people seem affected by the condition and others don’t. Some scientists believe the condition might be caused by overuse, or that it may be caused by common variations in the way the sciatic nerve and the piriformis muscle cross. There are plenty of theories but few known answers at present.

Generally the symptoms of piriformis syndrome include inflammation of the sciatic nerve, which may be observable on an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan. The condition may feel worse when certain activities are performed, and people with the condition are told to get rest and avoid those activities that are painful. This can be hard to do in some instances. Sitting on the toilet for instance can prove exceptionally uncomfortable with some people, and this is not an activity that can generally be avoided.

Once diagnosis of piriformis syndrome is made, the condition may be managed through rest, anti-inflammatory pain relievers, and by performing light stretching exercises as instructed by your physician or physical therapist. Sometimes people will have a corticosteroid injection near the piriformis muscle, but this is not always indicated, and may not promote healing.

Sometimes piriformis syndrome is extraordinarily painful and does not improve with medication and stretching. Under these very rare circumstances, surgery might be performed to loosen the piriformis muscle. Since medical treatment in most cases is not extensive, many people turn to alternative medical practitioners like chiropractors to help them with recover.

Chiropractors note that piriformis syndrome seems to occur most in those people who don’t stretch adequately before exercise. People who are obese, or who spend much of their time sitting (as on workdays) and then are active on the weekends might be prone to the condition. In addition to recommending exercises and stretches for those affected, chiropractors may also address the problem by performing some spinal manipulation and alignment.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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