Symptoms: Each buttock has a piriformis muscle. Piriformis syndrome is often described as a deep pain in a buttock without an obvious source for the pain. Sitting, climbing stairs or performing squats tends to aggravate the pain levels. The pain may also move to the outside of the thigh or even down to the foot. This is why piriformis syndrome falls under the category of sciatica, whose symptoms include: tingling or burning sensations, shooting pains, prickling and even numbness along the lower limb.
Overview: Piriformis syndrome is quite common, occurring when there is a chain reaction of nerve irritation in your lower back, buttocks or legs caused by aggravating or straining your piriformis muscle. The piriformus then irritates small surrounding nerves, which then irritate the larger sciatic nerve that runs from your lower back through your buttock and down your leg.
In the absence of pain, we take our piriformis muscles for granted, not realizing that they’re necessary for external hip rotation. Think of today’s field goal kicker in football who uses a soccer kick motion, kicking the ball with the inside of his foot. To perform this motion, he rotates his leg about 80 degrees, so the foot is pointing outwards. Without the piriformis muscle, this movement would be impossible.
There are a number of factors that cause problems with the piriformis muscle, hindering performance and causing great pain. These include: trauma to the sacroiliac joint; sitting too long with one leg crossed over the other; having legs that are different lengths, sitting while one leg faces outward, improper walking, poor posture and faulty spine mechanics.
Hormones can also be a factor, which is why piriformis syndrome is more prevalent in women. For instance, during pregnancy, a hormone called relaxin is produced to loosen the ligaments around the pelvis in preparation for birth. This causes the muscles around the pelvis, including the piriformis muscles, to react by tightening up, so the piriformis muscles end up working harder to stabilize the area.
With all these factors in play, and also because piriformis syndrome symptoms are very similar to other forms of sciatica, the condition can be very difficult to diagnose. Once piriformis syndrome is properly diagnosed, and the cause identified, treatment can be very effective.