Causes, Symptoms & Treatment
Piriformis syndrome is a condition which involves the piriformis muscle being in a state of contraction, spasm or tightness. When this happens it contributes to the development of associated back pain, gluteal discomfort and sciatica like pain. If the sciatic nerve becomes irritated it may also produce tingling or numbness along the sciatic nerve distribution through the leg, ankle and foot. The piriformis muscle is a small muscle that is situated deep within the buttock and below the gluteus maximus muscle. The major role of the piriformis muscle is to assist in rotating the hip or turning the leg and foot outwards.
Piriformis Syndrome Causes
Piriformis syndrome is common in people who spend long periods of time sitting at a desk, motor vehicle drivers as well as runners or recreational athletes. Any activity or exercise that places the piriformis muscle under strain may lead to piriformis syndrome. The associated inflammation and tightness within the muscle may contribute to pressure upon the sciatic nerve. Some people are born with their sciatic nerve either behind, on top or throughout the piriformis muscle. Depending upon the location this may increase your chances of experiencing piriformis syndrome. Less common causes that we encounter in clinical practice include people who place their wallet in their rear pocket, those who sit with their legs crossed as well as having weakened hip musculature.
Symptoms Of Piriformis Syndrome
It’s common for people suffering from piriformis syndrome to report tenderness and sensitivity in the buttock area. Upon palpation of this area it may refer pain down the back of the leg into the hamstring and calf muscles. Many practitioners and sufferers confuse piriformis syndrome pain with hamstring injury due to the close relationship of the hamstring origin and the piriformis muscle. Symptoms are quite similar to many lower back conditions such as sciatica, disc herniation, degenerative arthritis and mechanical lower back pain.
Common symptoms may include (but not limited too):
- Pain in the lower back and buttock regions that may refer to the leg, foot and ankle.
- Changes in walking or running pattern.
- Difficulty sitting for prolonged periods of time due to buttock pain.
How Is Piriformis Syndrome Diagnosed?
The diagnosis process for piriformis syndrome is to rule out other more serious conditions that present quite similar such as a disc injury. A comprehensive lumbopelvic examination can be performed by musculoskeletal therapists such as Chiropractors, Physiotherapist’s and Osteopaths. During this examination various tests and screening measures will be conducted to assess the lower back and pelvis. Piriformis syndrome can generally be diagnosed quite easily without the need for referral or additional imaging.
Piriformis Syndrome Treatment
Piriformis syndrome responds extremely well to conservative treatment. A combination of home based exercises and clinic based therapy provides sufficient and prompt recovery.
Chiropractic & Physiotherapy
Manual therapy such as that administered by Chiropractors assist individuals with reducing pain and improving their ability to complete activities of daily living with ease. Treatment that may be administered may include:
- Mobilization and manipulation of the lumbopelvic spine
- Soft tissue massage to the buttock muscular and connective tissue structures to assist with pain reduction and mobility
- Exercise advice to assist with reducing piriformis muscle spasm
- Physiological therapeutics such as Ultrasound, Shockwave therapy and low level laser treatment to assist with reducing inflammation
Chiropractor Piriformis Syndrome Research
- The most common clinical symptoms experienced by individuals suffering from piriformis syndrome appear to include buttock pain, external tenderness over the greater sciatic notch, aggravation of the pain through sitting and augmentation of the pain with movements that enhance piriformis muscle tension. Hopayian, K. (2010). The clinical features of the piriformis syndrome: a systematic review. European Spine Journal, 19(12); 2095 – 2109.
- Alternative or complementary treatment approaches such as Chiropractic care for piriformis syndrome appear helpful in managing and resolving associated pain and dysfunction. Tonley, J. et al. (2010). Treatment of an individual with piriformis syndrome focusing on hip muscle strengthening and movement re-education: a case report. Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, 40(2); 103 – 111.
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