In recent weeks, it’s the piriformis muscle that has been causing the most problems for clients. So we thought we’d give you the lowdown on how this muscle works and ways you can strengthen and protect it.
What is it and where is it?
The piriformis is a relatively small muscle located under the glute muscles, running from the sacrum (at the bottom of the spine) to the thigh bone. When we are stood up, the femur/thigh bone is externally rotated, the toes turn out and the piriformis shortens/contracts. However, when we are sat down (meaning hip flexion is 110° or greater), it does the opposite and internally rotates the femur.
How do I know if my piriformis is weak or tight?
Signs of a weak piriformis can include excessive internal rotation during the swing phase of walking/running (when your leg is propelled forward through the air). This is because the job of the piriformis is to stabilise the iliosacral joint (which joins the lower back to the pelvis) and prevent this internal rotation. This action puts extra load through the knee joint.
A particular sign of tightness or inflammation of the piriformis is nerve pain, which radiates down the back of the legs due to the sciatic nerve being irritated. One way to reduce tightness is to hold a developmental stretch for at least 30 seconds. As the piriformis is shortened when the hips are flexed in a seated position, we need to counteract this position in order to lengthen the piriformis.
How can I stretch it out?
There are several types of piriformis stretch, all of which are beneficial for reducing tightness in the hips. One example is the seated pigeon pose:
- Starting from all fours (on your hands and knees), bring your right knee forward and place it behind your right wrist. Place your ankle somewhere in front of your left hip.
- Slide your left leg back behind your body, straighten the knee and point the toes. Gently lower yourself down, keeping your hips square.
- Walk your hands forward and lower your upper body towards the floor.
- Balance your weight on both legs and hold for 30 seconds. Then push back through the hands, return to all fours and repeat on the other leg.
Anything else I can do?
Using a fascial release ball on your piriformis is another great way to relieve tension and tightness. We stock a variety of types and sizes at the clinic.
If you’re struggling with a piriformis problem and would like us a qualified sports therapist to help you solve it, you can book online or give us a call on 01249 445426.