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Piriformis syndrome is a common disorder in which the piriformis muscle in the buttocks (glutes) irritates the sciatic nerve. This results in pain, tingling or numbness in the buttocks and down the back of the leg. Symptoms can worsen after long periods of sitting, climbing stairs, walking or running. Massage therapy is the perfect treatment especially if the massage therapist gives stretching exercises to be completed at home in between massage sessions.
The piriformis lies deep in the gluteal group of muscles commonly referred to as the “glutes.” The gluteal group includes gluteus maximus, gluteus medius and gluteus minimus. Under the gluteal group you will find the piriformis along with five other lateral rotators of the hip. The sciatic nerve is the largest nerve in the body and the piriformis muscle is located on top of the nerve. When a client is feeling pain at the back of one hip and pain down the leg a common cause is a tight piriformis muscle putting pressure on the nerve. The piriformis muscle isn’t a large muscle but it is a large trouble maker in piriformis syndrome. Occasionally there is a structural impingement causing the pressure on the sciatic nerve but more often it’s just tight muscles. Tight muscles respond well to massage which is why massage therapy can be the perfect cure for piriformis syndrome.
While massage greatly helps this painful condition, some stretches at home will be the key to getting back to normal and keeping the condition from returning. Stretching the piriformis can be done standing, or lying down as demonstrated in the picture.
One other very effective self care technique is tennis ball massage. Take a tennis ball and lay on the floor. Lay on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor. If your right glute is the painful one, let your knees fall to the left as you place the tennis ball under your right hip at the point of pain. As you bring your knees back to center you will feel quite a bit of pressure against the tennis ball. Play with the intensity of the pressure. If it hurts too much take your knees back over to the right a bit until the pressure is uncomfortable but tolerable to hold for 30-60 seconds.
Feel for the muscle to release or hurt less. Then move the tennis ball’s position an inch and hold again. Keep moving the ball until you’ve released all the tender areas. They may not go away right away (remember your pain didn’t happen overnight) so keep with it for multiple days in a row. If you consistently get massage, stretch and use the tennis ball your pain will get better. Ten minutes for a week or two consistently and you will be happily back to no pain in the glutes!