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What Is Piriformis Syndrome?

Piriformis Syndrome is a condition involving the piriformis muscle, a small muscle located in the hip area and connected to the hip joint. It is a common cause of hip and lower back pain and can also cause pain and discomfort in the legs. In many cases, this condition is often misdiagnosed as sciatica or a herniated disc and is difficult to diagnose without a proper physical examination.

So, what is piriformis syndrome? Let's dive in. 

 

What Is Piriformis Syndrome?

Piriformis syndrome is caused by the compression of the sciatic nerve by the piriformis muscle. The piriformis muscle is a small muscle located deep in the buttock responsible for hip rotation. When the piriformis muscle becomes tight or experiences spasms, it can cause the sciatic nerve to become compressed, resulting in pain, tingling, numbness, and/or weakness in the buttocks and the leg. 

Because of the involvement of the sciatic nerve, patients may have a misdiagnosis of sciatica, which is a painful condition caused by irritation or compression of the sciatic nerve. The two conditions can have similar symptoms, and it’s essential to distinguish between them to determine the appropriate treatment.

What Causes Piriformis Syndrome?

Several factors, including injury, overuse, or an anatomical abnormality, can cause piriformis syndrome. 

Injury to the piriformis muscle or the surrounding area is a common cause of piriformis syndrome. Injuries could occur due to an accident or during a sporting event. The piriformis muscle can also be injured when the leg is forced to move into an unnatural position while performing physical activities such as running or jumping. 

Overusing the piriformis muscle can also lead to piriformis syndrome due to the increased tension placed on the muscle. When the muscle is overworked during intense, repetitive training, the muscle can become tight and spasm against the sciatic nerve, causing pain and other symptoms. 

Finally, an anatomical abnormality, such as an unusually large or small piriformis muscle, can also lead to sciatic nerve compression. 

Piriformis Syndrome Symptoms

Piriformis syndrome can cause a variety of symptoms, including: 

  • Pain
  • Tingling 
  • Numbness
  • Muscle spasms
  • Muscle tightening in the buttocks and lower back
  • Weakness in the buttocks and down one or both legs 

The pain can range from mild to severe and may worsen when sitting or while performing certain activities. For example, piriformis pain could worsen when sitting for long periods or when lifting heavy objects. 

 

How Is Piriformis Syndrome Diagnosed?

Piriformis syndrome is typically diagnosed based on a physical exam and a review of your symptoms. Once you've made your appointment, you'll discuss your current symptoms with your medical professional and what may bring them on.

During the physical exam, the medical professional will check for tenderness in the piriformis muscle and other areas of the buttocks. They may also ask you to perform specific movements to check for pain or weakness in the affected leg. 

In some cases, imaging tests such as an X-ray, MRI, or CT scan may be ordered to rule out other conditions, such as a bone fracture or herniated disk, which could cause similar symptoms. 

How Is Piriformis Syndrome Treated?

Several treatments are available for piriformis syndrome, including physical therapy, medications, and even injections for pain management. 

The first course of treatment that will likely be suggested is physical therapy, where you'll be given exercises to stretch the piriformis muscle while also strengthening the muscles in the buttocks and hips. This not only helps improve strength and flexibility, but also helps to reduce inflammation and prevent further compression of the sciatic nerve.

If you're still struggling with pain associated with piriformis syndrome, your medical professional may recommend a course of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen or naproxen. These over-the-counter medications help to reduce inflammation and relieve pain to help with daily activities. Should the pain not be relieved by medication, then a round of corticosteroid injections may be used for inflammation and pain management. 

In some cases, surgery may be recommended if other treatments are not effective. However, surgery isn't the first choice as it is used to remove scar tissue. From there, exercises and physical therapy are still needed to help with recovery and prevent a recurrence.

 

Managing Your Piriformis Syndrome

A significant part of managing piriformis syndrome is controlling your pain. That can mean learning how to sit with piriformis syndrome and how to sleep with piriformis syndrome. Some of the best tips for managing your symptoms on a day-to-day basis include:

  • Identify the causes of your pain. Is the pain linked to any specific movements and actions?
  • Stretch the piriformis muscle by laying on your back, pulling one knee to your chest at a time, holding for a few seconds, and then repeating on the other side. 
  • Use ice and heat therapies to help ease the pain and swelling. 
  • If you spend long hours at a desk for work or school, get up frequently to stretch and move around.
  • Try alternative therapies, including chiropractic adjustments and acupuncture.

 

Piriformis Syndrome Treatment and Management at the American Hip Institute

Piriformis syndrome can be a painful and debilitating condition. However, you can effectively manage your symptoms with the proper treatment and care.  The American Hip Institute offers comprehensive treatment and management for piriformis syndrome. Our staff is here to help you get the relief you need and to provide you with the care and support you deserve.

Want to learn more about piriformis syndrome diagnosis? Request your consultation today.

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