The deadlift is a compound move that works many muscle groups, including your hamstrings, core, glutes, lower back, upper back, mid-back and forearms. Because the deadlift works so many muscles, there is a temptation to keep loading weight on the bar as you progress.
While this may make you stronger, it can also lead to injuries and irritation. An example of such a problem is piriformis syndrome — a condition that can cause sciatic nerve pain with a deadlift.
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While deadlifts aren't known to directly irritate the piriformis, they can cause pain if you have piriformis syndrome.
What's a Piriformis?
The piriformis is a muscle that lies under your glutes and runs across the middle of your butt. It originates on the sacrum and ilium and inserts on the greater trochanter, on the outside of your upper thigh bone. The piriformis is responsible for laterally rotating your hip, such as when you turn your foot so that it points to the side. It also aids in hip abduction — lifting your leg out to the side — when your hip is in a flexed position.
An Irritating Issue
Piriformis syndrome occurs when there's an irritation to the muscle, causing it to put pressure on the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve runs through your buttocks and into your thigh and lower back. An inflamed or tight piriformis can lead to pain in these areas. The pain usually gets worse when you're sitting down, or when working the glutes either in the gym — such as during deadlifts — or in everyday activities such as climbing stairs.
Piriformis Pain With Deadlift
While deadlifts aren't one of the most common causes of piriformis syndrome, if you perform deadlifts regularly, your entire gluteal area can become tight. This tightness can include the piriformis and lead to pressure on the sciatic nerve, ultimately causing piriformis pain with a deadlift.
Sumo deadlifts, performed with a wide stance, place less strain on the lower back, but put much more strain on the glutes than conventional deadlifts. Therefore, you might want to avoid this type of deadlift if you have piriformis syndrome.
Additionally, because the piriformis is an external rotator, a deadlift performed with your feet turned out could increase pain if you have piriformis problems.
Read more: Deadlift Machine vs. Deadlift Barbell
Do a Piriformis Stretch
A piriformis stretch can help lengthen your tight muscle and relieve pressure on your sciatic nerve.
HOW TO DO IT: Sit on a firm surface. Cross the ankle on your affected side over the knee of your opposite leg — the "figure-4" position. Slowly hinge forward at your hips until you feel a strong pull in your buttocks. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds and repeat three times.
To diagnose the precise cause of your piriformis pain, consult your doctor or a sports therapist to determine the best course of action and whether deadlifts will help or hinder your recovery.