Runner’s Health – What Is Piriformis Syndrome?

Not too many people know this, but I used to run on my high school’s track team. I wasn’t very good at it, so there’s really nothing to brag about. But the running was still good exercise. However it did come with a price.

Sure, I’d get a case of shin splints now and then, but the real killer for me was Piriformis Syndrome.

It came on fast and hard! Like a sharp and stabbing pain in my hip or buttocks. And first, I was convinced that it was a stress fracture, and I was afraid to see a doctor because I didn’t want to spend months in a cast. But after the pain just got worse and worse over the next few days, I figured I should seek out help.

The sports medicine doctor I saw tested the muscle strength in my legs asked me a few questions. Eventually he explained to me that I had Piriformis Syndrome.

There is a small muscle in your pelvis called the Piriformis that connects your leg to your hips. The Piriformis is responsible for the external rotation of your legs and helping you keep your balance while you’re moving (kind of important for runners).

But when this muscle becomes over worked, such as from a strenuous training, it can begin to spasm or become too tense. When this happens the Piriformis can begin to irritate the sciatic nerve, which runs right underneath it.

This is where all the pain starts. The sciatic nerve runs from the lower back all the way down to your feet. Symptoms of an agitated sciatic nerve could be pain, numbness, or tingling anywhere from the lower back down to your toes. However, the most common symptoms of Piriformis Syndrome is pain in your buttocks.

I was relieved that I didn’t have a stress fracture. In fact, my problem was a lot simpler. The doctor gave me a few simple stretches to do every day and he told me to take some painkillers to help with inflammation.

It was sometimes difficult to find the time to do the stretches everyday, but I knew if I didn’t do them the pain would continue.

The best stretch I’ve found for Piriformis Syndrome is quite simple. The Piriformis is very deep in your buttocks, so it is difficult to stretch. But here is an easy one you can do at home.

Simply sit on the floor with both of your legs in front of you and your knees bent. Then cross your right leg over your left knee and pull your right knee toward your chest. You will feel a stretch in your right buttocks. This is your Piriformis muscle stretching on your right side. Hold this stretch for about 5 minutes or however long feels good to you.

After a few weeks, at the most, you will have relieved the tension in your Piriformis muscle and your pain should go away. If you ever start to feel that pain creeping back in, just do this stretch again from time to time.