Protect Your Piriformis Muscle

Avoid "runner's butt" by taking care of your piriformis muscle.

While few runners could tell you where the piriformis muscle is, many have suffered from the pain it can cause. You may know this pain by the general terms, "runner's butt" or "piriformis syndrome," but do you know exactly what happens to cause that pain in your posterior and what you can do about it?

 

Anatomy Lesson
The piriformis is a short, dense muscle deep in the gluteal complex. It connects the head of the femur to the sacrum and is one of the muscles responsible for lateral rotation of the leg. Because the hip rotates a small amount with every step you take, the piriformis muscles of high-mileage runners face a lot of wear and tear. While this type of overuse can cause pain or injury to any muscle, the piriformis presents a unique secondary problem: it lies over the sciatic nerve, and when the muscle becomes inflamed, it often presses against the nerve, causing tingling, pain or even damage.

Mysterious Malady
Because the sciatic nerve runs all the way from the lower spine to the toes, pain can occur anywhere along that pathway. This can make piriformis syndrome difficult to diagnose. While it's always best to get a diagnosis from a medical professional, if you have pain that originates deep in the gluteal complex and radiates either up into your lower back or down along the outside of your leg, chances are good that an overly tight, inflamed piriformis is the culprit.

 

Ease Your Pain and Prevent Recurring Injury
If you've received a diagnosis of piriformis syndrome or piriformis-related sciatica, recovery is possible, but it will take time. Unfortunately, you'll have to stop running for anywhere from a couple of weeks to several months, because it's the repetitive rotation of the leg with each stride that caused your inflammation and pain in the first place.

Once you've rested enough so that the pain is less severe, you should start a gradual but progressive regimen to massage and stretch the piriformis muscle. You can use a tennis ball to gently massage the muscle yourself. To stretch it, get on your back, raise your leg off the ground and loop a long strap around the bottom of that foot. With a slight bend in the knee, very gently pull your leg across your body. Hold for a few seconds, then release for a few seconds and repeat for a total of about one minute. As the muscle becomes more flexible, you should notice less and less pain.

It's crucial that you don't resume running until the pain is completely gone, and once you do, be sure to keep up your stretching routine so that your injury doesn't return. Strengthening the muscles of the outer hip, particularly the abductors, can also help stabilize the pelvis in stride, putting less strain on the piriformis. So adding some strengthening exercises for the outer hip is a great supplement to your recovery.

Now that you know what your piriformis muscle is and how to take care of it, you can work to mitigate the pain and get back to doing what you love.

 

Rashelle Brown is a freelance writer primarily covering topics of health, wellness and fitness. Her work has appeared in IDEA Fitness Journal, and she contributes regularly to Livestrong.com, Active.com and the PBS website Nextavenue.org. She is also the founder of Well Curated Life, a website dedicated to helping individuals live healthy, happy lives.

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