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Low Back Pain & Sciatica - The Role of the Piriformis Muscle

Jul 7, 2008
Although Low Back Pain & Sciatica are two separate conditions, with the former relating to pain felt in and around the Lower Back region and the latter describing pain wihch travels down the leg, they share a lot of similarities with regards to their cause. One of several common causes between them is a tight Piriformis muscle.

The Piriformis muscle is situated deep within the buttock region, where it attached to the outside of your hip and also the outer part of your sacrum. As it travels between these two points, the Sciatic Nerve either passes through this muscle itself, or directly underneath (it varies from person to person).

With the Sciatic nerve passing in such close proximity to the Piriformis muscle, it should come as no surprise that, if this muscle is tight, it will place increased stress upon the Sciatic Nerve, resulting in pain. As far as Low Back Pain is concerned, the reasons for pain are completely differrent. With the Piriformis muscle attatching to the Sacrum, if this muscle is tight, it will be continuously 'pulling' upon this bone.

This continuous stress being placed upon the Sacrum, by a tight Piriformis muscle, actually has an influence upon the Sacro-Iliac Joint. This joint is situated in the Lower Back region and is made up of the Sacrum and the Ilia (the Ilia being a specific part of the pelvis which forms the other half of this joint). Therefore, pain may well occur due to the repeated stresses across this joint.

The Lumbar Spine is therefore not the only potential source of pain for this region, it may be the Sacro-Iliac Joint which is responsible instead or as well as it. Typically, this pain is felt a little lower than 'normal' Low Back Pain, although this is not always the case. In addition to this, just above the buttock area there is a little dimple (for most, but not everyone) either side of the mid-line. If it feels as if your pain is coming form here, it may be the Sacro-Iliac Joint which is responsible for your pain.

Moving on to Sciatica, if the 'highest' part of your pain is in the 'buttock' region, it is highly probable that a tight Piriformis muscle is responsible for your pain. You will need to stretch this muscle if this is the case.

There are several ways of stretching the Piriformis muscle, all of which would are best described with the use of a diagram. There is a link at the bottom of this article which will show you some Piriformis stretches.

There are alternatives to stretching, or maybe I should say additions to stretching, which are very effective at making this muscle more supple. One way is by using a small ball, such as a tennis ball:

The best thing to do here is to place the ball underneath your buttock, while lying on your back with your knees slightly bent. Using your body weight, as much or as little as you feel appropriate, gently 'massage' the ball into your buttock. The Piriformis muscle is situated approximately in the middle of each buttock.

It is important to be sensible while performing this exercise. This is due to the Sciatic Nerve passing through or underneath the Piriformis muscle. Consequently, if you are too aggressive while performing this stretch, especially if the Sciatic Nerve is quite sensitive, you may make your pain worse.

If it does, this is nothing to worry about. However, it is your body's way of telling you it is not ready for that kind of treatment yet. Have a rest for a day or two and then try again, only being a little gentler next time!

Making a tight Piriformis muscle more supple is essential if you are to relieve the stress being placed upon the Sciatica Nerve or Sacro-Iliac Joint. The self massage exercise given above, along with the stretches given in the link below, will help loosen this muscle and therefore lead you on the road to recovery.
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Begin your Piriformis Stretches here.
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