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Piriformis – Muscle of the Month (Oct)

The piriformis (Pir-ri-form-is) muscles is located deep in the back of the hip/ buttock area. It attaches from the sacrum to the upper part of the leg bone. It and 5 other muscles are responsible for external rotation of the hip (twisting the leg out to the side).  

Fun facts about the piriformis muscle:
  • It was named in 16th century by Adriaan Van De Spiegel 
  • In around 25% of the population the sciatic nerve actually passes through the piriformis as oppose to lying next to it  
  • There is a condition called “Piriformis syndrome” OR “deep gluteal syndrome”, which there has been much debate around. Due to close proximity of the sciatic nerve when you have problem with the piriformis muscle, you can get referral/leg pain/nerve symptoms commonly referred to as “sciatica”This type of nerve complaint is different as it is irritated in the region of the hip/buttocks rather than being irritated in the low back. This is quite common.

You can get compression of the nerve in your hip/ buttock from a number of reasons. A classic one is people who sit on there wallet in the back pocket or sit on hard surfaces. This can cause direct compression into the area. Another one is individuals who get over loading of these muscles around the hip (i.e starting new fitness class or increasing running distance) and can irritate the piriformis which and upset the nerves.

Things to notice on yourself:
  • Do you have pain in the back of the hip/ buttocks?

  • Do you have nerve symptoms? (i.e. shooting pain , burning, pins/needles, tingling, weakness, numbness in the hip or down the leg)

  • Lying on you back does one foot turn out more than the? (possibly indicating tightness in muscles) 

Although there is plenty of information on Google about piriformis syndrome, each condition is unique and the same management approach won’t work on everyone and can sometime make it worse. If you feel like you have a problem around this part of the hip/buttocks I would recommend seeing a physiotherapist and getting a specific treatment plan in place.  

Tim Cottman-Fields, Physiotherapist and Exercise Physiologist


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