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Piriformis Syndrome: Causes, Symptoms, & Treatments

Learn about the causes, symptoms, and treatments for piriformis syndrome.

piriformis syndrome

Spinal Anatomy

Piriformis Muscles

The piriformis is a muscle on the outside of the hip that aids in the hip’s ability to rotate.

Sciatic Nerve

The sciatic nerves are the main nerves that carry information from the spinal cord down each of the legs. It is the largest and longest nerve in the human body and passes right through the piriformis muscle.

What is Piriformis Syndrome?

Due to the close proximity, irritation, inflammation, or spasms of the piriformis muscle can put pressure on the sciatic nerve and cause pain.

Issues in your lower spine (ie: bulging disc) can also put pressure on the sciatic nerve, causing shooting pain. This is referred to as sciatica.

The pain felt by individuals with piriformis syndrome can be similar to the symptoms of sciatica. This can make diagnosis more difficult. Doctors will often use medical history, physical evaluation, and possibly imaging techniques to identify the cause of the sciatic nerve pain. During the physical examination, certain stretches may be used to help the doctor identify if the pain is coming from an irritated piriformis muscle.

What Causes It?

The pain felt in piriformis syndrome is caused by the irritated piriformis muscle.

This hip muscle can be irritated by a physical trauma such as an accident, or from a chronic condition which affects hip rotation. Intense training for sports like running or weight lifting, or sitting for long periods of time can lead to this condition. Anatomical variations and tumors in the area have also been known to cause piriformis syndrome.

Piriformis syndrome occurs most often in middle aged patients and is more prevelant in women than in men.

Symptoms of Piriformis Syndrome

Symptoms of piriformis syndrome often include one or more of the following:

  • pain, or burning in the lower back / buttocks region
  • shooting pain down the leg(s)
  • numbness or tingling in the buttocks or going down the leg(s)

The pain shooting down the leg(s) can be similar to the pain felt from sciatica.

What Treatment Options Are Available for Piriformis Syndrome?

To reduce the pain felt from piriformis syndrome, doctors may recommend the use of anti-inflammatory medications or prescribe muscle relaxants. If the pain is more severe or persistent, a steroid injection may also be used.

Physical therapy, deep tissue massage, and exercise is often used to treat the muscle irritation.

Surgical treatment is not common for piriformis syndrome.



*Please Note: Information on this site or any recommended sites should not be used as a diagnosis or a substitute for talking with your doctor. Always talk with your doctor about diagnosis and treatment information.
Blue Distinction Center for Spine Surgery