Lower back pain is very common and can be the result of a variety of causes. One of these isn’t usually the primary suspect but it occurs more often than one might think: constriction of the piriformis muscle.
This small slim muscle is behind the gluteus maximus, connecting the spine to the top of the femur. If the piriformis muscle tightens, gets pulled, becomes inflamed, or spasms, an effective piriformis stretch can restore muscle function and relieve pain.
What is the Piriformis?
The piriformis is a difficult muscle to get to—the largest muscle in the body is in front of it.
The piriformis allows movement of the hip, upper leg, and foot outward from the body. This muscle covers the sciatic nerve (the largest in the body) that runs from the lower back down into the legs.
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In some people, the sciatic nerve runs through this muscle. Sciatica is a condition in which the sciatic nerve is pinched in some way, causing pain.
The piriformis is not only important for hip and leg movement but it is a key part of our overall balance while upright. One end of the piriformis is attached to the front part of the sacrum, the triangular bone at the base of the spine. It’s the only pelvic muscle that attaches to the front of the sacrum, providing balance between the pelvis and legs.
Its counteraction with the psoas muscle at the front of the pelvis and the gluteus maximus at the back maintains stability. An impeded piriformis limits both mobility and balance.
What Causes Piriformis Syndrome?
Surprisingly, a piriformis syndrome diagnosis is a somewhat controversial condition in medical circles. It seems that medical and health professionals can’t determine a cause of piriformis syndrome, so they have trouble defining and diagnosing it. It is unsurprising then, that there is disagreement on the best way to treat piriformis syndrome.
One reason for the lack of consensus in the diagnosis and treatment of this increasingly common condition is the location of the problem. Nerve pain and nerve compression are tricky conditions to begin with if you have a clear view from magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The piriformis is unfortunately difficult to see, even with MRI scans.