Piriformis Syndrome

What is piriformis syndrome?

Piriformis syndrome is a problem that can happen when a muscle deep in the buttock presses on a nerve. This muscle is called the piriformis muscle and the nerve is called the sciatic nerve. You use the piriformis muscle to turn your thigh outward. The sciatic nerve passes through or next to the piriformis muscle as it travels from your back down into your leg. Pressure on the sciatic nerve can cause pain or tingling in the back of the hip and in the leg.

What is the cause?

Spasm, or tightening, of the piriformis muscle can put pressure on the nerve. This may happen, for example, if you have been doing a lot of downhill running, kicking, or sitting on hard surfaces.

What are the symptoms?

The main symptom is pain deep in your buttock. The pain usually goes down across your lower thigh. You may feel tingling or numbness in the back of your hip and leg. You may have more pain when you turn your thigh outward, like when you sit cross-legged.

How is it diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms, activities, and medical history and examine you. You may have X-rays or other scans of your back.

How is it treated?

You will need to change or stop doing the activities that cause pain. Your healthcare provider may recommend stretching and strengthening exercises and other types of physical therapy to help you heal.

A mild injury may heal in a few weeks, but a severe injury may take 6 weeks or longer.

How can I help take care of myself?

To help relieve swelling and pain:

  • Put an ice pack, gel pack, or package of frozen vegetables wrapped in a cloth on the area every 3 to 4 hours for up to 20 minutes at a time.
  • Take pain medicine, such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or other medicine as directed by your provider. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, may cause stomach bleeding and other problems. These risks increase with age. Read the label and take as directed. Unless recommended by your healthcare provider, do not take for more than 10 days.

Moist heat may help relax your muscles and make it easier to move your hip and leg. Put moist heat on the area for 10 to 15 minutes at a time before you do warm-up and stretching exercises. Moist heat includes heat patches or moist heating pads that you can purchase at most drugstores, a wet washcloth or towel that has been heated in the dryer, or a hot shower. Don’t use heat if you have swelling.

Follow your healthcare provider's instructions, including any exercises recommended by your provider. Ask your provider:

  • How and when you will hear your test results
  • How long it will take to recover
  • What activities you should avoid and when you can return to your normal activities
  • How to take care of yourself at home
  • What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if you have them

Make sure you know when you should come back for a checkup.

How can I help prevent piriformis syndrome?

Warm-up exercises and stretching before activities can help prevent this problem.

Follow safety rules and use any protective equipment recommended for your work or sport.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Published by RelayHealth.
Copyright ©2014 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.