Can Deadlifts Irritate the Piriformis Muscle?

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 an problem is piriformis syndrome.

A man is about to complete a deadlift. (Image: Ibrakovic/iStock/Getty Images)

The Piriformis

The piriformis is a muscle that is part of 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. 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 when your hip is in a flexed position.

An Irritating Issue

Piriformis syndrome occurs when there's an irritation to the muscle, causing it 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 or in everyday activities such as climbing stairs.

Are Deadlifts to Blame?

If you perform deadlifts regularly, your entire gluteal area can become tight. This tightness can transfer to the piriformis and lead to pressure on the sciatic nerve. 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, a sumo puller may be more likely to develop piriformis syndrome. Additionally, because the piriformis is an external rotator, a deadlift performed with your feet turned out increases your chances of developing piriformis problems.

Deadlifts to the Rescue

Under-active and weak glutes can also be to blame for an inflamed piriformis, particularly if you spend a lot of your day sitting down. In this scenario, deadlifting can actually strengthen your glutes and resolve your piriformis issues, according to strength coach Marcus Heidtman of CrossFit Intrepid. 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.

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