How to Release the Piriformis Muscle — and When You Should

If you feel a twinge or ache in your low back after a long day at the office, you're not alone. Thirty-one million Americans experience low back pain at any given time, according to the American Chiropractic Association. Needless to say, pain in the back is a widespread problem and it may just be your piriformis muscle.

Introducing regular stretches and foam rolling can help release your piriformis muscle. Credit: pixdeluxe/E+/GettyImages

The piriformis muscle is an external rotator of the hip and runs from your lower spine to the top of your thigh bone, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP). Long periods of sitting and driving can lead to bad posture, causing tightness or pain in the piriformis.

Luckily, the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) has some simple stretches and foam rolling techniques that will release your piriformis and help you avoid piriformis syndrome. If you're feeling some tightness along your lower body, incorporate these treatments into your daily routine.

Read more: How to Stretch Your Butt Muscles

Stretching to Release the Piriformis Muscle

While no one loves the feeling of tight muscles, there's a difference between muscle pain and tightness, which is important to consider for the piriformis muscle. Muscles are like rubber bands, especially the piriformis muscle; the more you pull it, the tighter it gets, according to NASM. So, stretch slowly!

While you want to stretch the piriformis in order to release the muscle, your hamstrings and hip flexors are big players here, too, according to NASM. The piriformis is a large muscle and is connected to other muscle groups, including the hamstrings, hip flexors and quadriceps. Stretching these muscles, too will help release your piriformis.

A static stretch for the piriformis:

  1. Lie on your back with one foot on top of a stability ball, the other foot crossed over the knee.
  2. Slowly pull the ball toward your body with your heel and press the crossed knee away until you feel a stretch in the back of your hip.
  3. Hold for 30 seconds. Repeat on the other side.

A static stretch for the hamstrings:

  1. Lying on your back, raise one leg and bend it to 90 degrees, leaving the other leg extended straight on the floor.
  2. Hold the bent leg and straighten it in the air until there's a stretch in the back of the upper leg.
  3. Hold for 30 seconds. Switch sides and repeat.

A static stretch for the hip flexors:

  1. Kneeling on your left leg, bend your right front leg to a 90-degree angle in front of you.
  2. Tighten your glutes and slowly shift your body forward.
  3. Raise your left arm and stretch to the opposite side until you feel the stretch in front of your pelvis.
  4. Hold for 30 seconds. Switch sides and repeat the stretch.

Foam Rolling to Release the Piriformis Muscle

Foam rolling the piriforms, quadriceps and IT band can also help relieve this muscle, according to NASM. All you need is a foam roller, which you can find at a local sports store or on Amazon.

How to foam roll the piriformis muscle:

  1. Sit on top of the foam roller, positioning it directly on the back of your hip.
  2. Crossing one leg over the other and placing your foot on the opposite knee, roll the back of the hip slowly.
  3. Whenever you feel a pressure point, pause for 30 seconds. Repeat on both sides.

How to foam roll the quadriceps:

  1. Lie on your stomach, foam roller under the front of your thigh.
  2. Supporting your body with your forearms or hands, roll your quad muscle, applying pressure slowly.
  3. Whenever you feel a tender spot, apply pressure for about 30 seconds. Repeat on the other quad.

How to foam roll the IT band:

  1. Lying on your side, place the foam roller under your hip and cross your top leg over your body, placing your foot flat.
  2. Raise the leg on the foam roller off the ground and keep it this way throughout the exercise.
  3. Roll from the hip to the knee, keeping the roller along the outer thigh and slightly in front of the hip and knee.
  4. Pause for 30 seconds on tender points. Repeat on your opposite side.

Treating and Preventing Piriformis Syndrome

Piriformis syndrome occurs when the piriformis muscle presses on the sciatic nerve, which runs from your spinal cord to your buttocks and down the back of your legs, according to the AAFP. Typically, this pressure causes pain or numbness in the lower body.

Sometimes, this pain is simply muscle tightness, but if it persists or feels gradually more severe, you should consult a doctor. Typically, treatment for piriformis syndrome involves rest, ice or heat packs, or (if the doctor recommends) anti-inflammatory medications. Certain cases of piriformis syndrome also require physical therapy for treatment.

For some patients, piriformis syndrome comes and goes throughout their lifetimes, according to the AAFP. Still, there are some preventative practices you can try. Regular exercise and maintaining good posture are two measures to help prevent piriformis syndrome. Avoid sitting for excessively long periods of time and keep your back straight when lifting items off the ground.

Read more: Rehabilitation With a Personal Trainer vs. Physical Therapy

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