Back in 1999/early 2000, shooting, burning pains down my left leg were diagnosed as piriformis syndrome. That was ultimately a good thing, first of all because it wasn’t sciatica, and second because it started me on the journey to rebalancing my body and learning more about the anatomical structures beneath the surface.

As with any muscle that has an imbalance, I found it important to stretch and strengthen—stretching the overtight left side and strengthening the right side—to bring my sacrum back into balance. Back in 2000, foam rollers were not the ubiquitous presence they are today and Yoga Tune Up® Therapy Balls still remained to be invented. Now I use the Therapy Balls to keep my piriformis healthy and supple (either rolling out one side at a time at the wall, or rolling out on the floor either with one ball or two). The new YTU® Alpha Ball is a particular joy to use, as the larger diameter and surface area help to distribute the lines of force over what feels like the whole muscle surface, hiding there underneath the gluteus maximus.

Since starting on my hip health program to keep the piriformis and other lateral hip rotators juicy and happy, I’ve found the following poses particularly beneficial to both strengthen and stretch this significant hip mover: abductor lifts/adductor slides, the Gomukhasana variation (with shins approximately at right angles to the thigh bones), and reclined Leg Stretch #3 (which you can see in the video clip below).

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Dawn Adams

Dawn has been practicing yoga since the mid-1990s. She took her first class at the Alameda Yoga Station in 1996 and has since studied under experienced teachers such as Sandy Blaine, JoAnn Lyons, and Donald Moyer. Dawn graduated from the Advanced Studies Program at the Yoga Room in Berkeley in 2009 and she continues to deepen her personal practice. Yoga has become an integral part of her life, especially because of its nurturing and centering aspects. Through practicing yoga, she has found that undoing is just as important as doing. In her teaching, she hopes to instill a sense of adventure and exploration of yoga, with a focus on finding balance and joy through practice. Most recently, Dawn found Yoga Tune Up and, fascinated by the functional approach to movement, completed the YTU Level 1 Certification. She is excited to share her unique approach to practice.

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Line Bernier

Cette séquence est faite pour moi qui éprouve des problèmes depeuis quelques années avec mon bas de dos, hanche et si ! Merci de partager!

Michelle Preyde

Totally agree – the Alpha on the piriformis is delicious! I wish I knew about the balls when I had sciatic issues many years ago.

Ann Knighton

Thanks Dawn! Thanks for the reminder how this pose can help the lower back!

Jimmee Greco

Thank you for mentioning Leg Stretch #3 as a remedy for hip pain. I thought of this stretch as mainly for IT Band and TFL, but I can see now how it also really benefits the hips. (Also, the video clip illuminated its helpfulness in alleviating low-back pain, something that I struggle with from time to time.) I’m looking forward to imcorporating this stretch into my next self-care session.

Stacey Rosenberg

Thanks for your post Dawn. I am so happy I found the Yoga Tune Up balls, I used to use a Lacrosse ball on my piriformis – not so nice! Sometimes I even use them in the car or on a plane. My boyfriend has this issue from time to time and I am finally getting him to roll and find relief from occasional sciatic pain. I can’t wait to teach him the other “Hip Helpers”.

Dustin Brown

I love this pose. Such an amazing low back and hip stretch and legnther. I have been playing with different variations by closing the chain of the bottom foot into the wall. Also the assisted variation is a great way to help someone into their perfect alignment. Thank you for sharing : )

Hilary Stabb

Thanks for this therapeutic stretch – I am intent on taking care of my sore piriformis with gentle stretching so I don’t accidentally overstretch it! I often feel like my sitbones are bruised, but did not want to address aggressively.

Ilene

Great blog post and video. It’s so great that there are therapeutic poses like these that stretch the piriformis to prevent and rehabilitate piriformis syndrome. I love the way this pose feels in my body and love to combine with the YTU therapy balls.

Kate Krumsiek

Such a rich topic! Look at all these comments – you’ve really touched a nerve here ( I couldn’t resist) .
After reading this, I MUST get some Alpha balls rolling around my studio. Students are always looking for ways to ease this area. Thank you for including Leg Stretch #3. It is such a wonderful and fairly accessible stretch for people to include in home practices on a daily basis.

Nadjiba Medjaoui

That is very interesting…I use to think that I had a sciatica…but now I am thinking that it could be a performs syndrome…I will definitely explore that…thank you!

Dawn Adams

Hi Nancy & Amanda, there are many roads to releasing long-held tightness in the hips — probably an infinite number, given the diversity of people’s bone structure, strength level, innate flexibility capability, and history of injury/trauma. My suggestion to you both is to experiment, gently, to see what postures/movements/ball therapies work for your bodies, which have their own histories imprinted in the tissues. As far as iliacus/posterior tilt relationship, as you both know, the iliacus is one of the primary hip flexors, so a tendency toward posterior tilt could possibly be locking that muscle short (along with its bff, the… Read more »

Amanda M

I find Leg Stretch #3 quite intense, and need a lot of warm up before even coming close to being comfortable in it. If you were going to use the standard YTU balls, would there be a preference to the direction you roll the balls or would you just be inclined to keep it freestyle to get some circulation and blood etc into the area? Thanks

Michele Klink

I have loved the Yoga Tune Up balls for releasing those big gluteus muscles and aiming to tap deeper into the piriformis release. I also appreciate the video for Leg Stretch #3. I have become more aware of strengthening and stretching the QL, quadratus lumborum, for good back health, especially with side plank and stretching the QL in YogaTune Up Boomerang side stretch.

Nancy

Hi Dawn, I just read both of your piriformis articles and also one posted by someone else who spoke in the voice of the (neglected) iliacus. I want to investigate my long term relationship with my left side tightness and weakness, which has increased dramtically in the last year. Though I do not turn my feet out (in fact, the “natural” position of my left foot if I don’t turn it straight forward is internally rotated about 40 degrees), my piriformis and all outer hip muscles are extremely tight, and if I sit in a conventional chair I get pain… Read more »

Kristin

I have a bulging disk at l5/s1, I experience sciatic pain and piriformis tightness, QL, Psoas, and gluteus medius pain/tightness. For a year I went to a chiro who would always have to reset my SI joint, did PT where they gave me some strengthening exercises and did some traction and other movements, but it was always sort of disconnected information. I asked many times why to try to learn from them but never really got more then a sort of factory answer. The above series as I understand it, as well as an earlier comment about using an alpha… Read more »

Befriend Your Piriformis | Yoga Tune Up

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Jackie

Thanks for this post. I just had a student tell me about her own issues with the piriformis and now I can share this with her and my classes.

Kathleen

Thank you for highlighting the piriformis muscle. I have an older student who has experienced hip pain for years and when we started focusing on lengthening and strengthening her piriformis. She rode horses for years and became unable to externally rotate and abduct her hip to mount a horse. After a deeper focus on the pirformis and external hip rotators, her range of motion has increased immensely and she can ride again. I am excited to incorporate leg stretch #3 and the adductor slides/abductor lifts into her practice

Clare Chura

This pose would be great to practice right after sidewinder-minivini. The rapid, intense movement involved in these minivinis excites the quadratus lumborum, requiring a deep, slower stretch afterwards. I also like how this pose elongates the thigh muscles while simultaneously requiring a focus on keeping the spine from flexing. It’s highly corrective in nature, especially for one with a slouchy posture.

Alicia Martinez

Thank you Dawn for sharing this! I reacently had surgery on my hip and all the muscles around are inbalanced. My piriformis was definetly tight and I had expirienced discomfort and pain runnig from the buttock all the way down to the foot. Also I found that because of this, my sacroiliac joint was unstable. I needed to bring stability to my sacrum and stretch the muscle. The YTU Therapy Balls had helped me enormously but now that I can have more range of motion in my hip I will practice this exercices to strengthen my hip muscles again and… Read more »

Christopher Walling

Dawn!
Oh thank you for writing about the powerful, pesky periformis. As someone who was once diagnosed with Periformis Muscle Syndrome, this sequence has provided powerful RELIEF. I appreciate you incorporating the use of the Alpha ball too, because oooh boy does it give you a lot of bang for your buck! My constellation of tight quads, weak knees, and a bound up periformis are over thanks to YTU and you darlin!!

benito garcia

I found that very interesting and may have a similar situation. Can’t wait to try it tomorrow!

tomomi ishimura

you can release lower back pain with this twisting pose a lot. and also chest open and strecth hips too.

Kevyn

I love the idea of using the alpha ball in this thick muscular area in order to cover more surface area. It seems this confusion between sciatica and piriformis problems is quite common as I have multiple friends who’ve come to find that their “sciatica” was actually just an under loved over stressed piriformis.

Yi-Hsueh Lu

I once took a class where the theme was Padmasana. The pose is literally a stretch for me to start with, and when I was trying to come into Supta Padmasana prone, I suddenly felt a sharp pain in the deep six muscles. Luckily I didn’t end up injury myself, but it is these deep muscles that we often neglected (and ended up with injury unexpectedly). It is so important to point out that all muscles need to be stretched and strengthened. Thanks for the note!

Meredith Brockriede

Dawn, your suggestions (and our training) come at such a great time for me! I am just starting to recognize a pelvic imbalance in my body, and factoring in how my chronically tight piriformis plays a role. The abductor lifts/adductor slides we practiced recently were definitely challenging, and I look forward to incorporating those movements into class to help increase awareness of this important hip muscle.

Jiin Liang

Thanks Dawn for sharing your experiences. I also experienced similar confusion between sciatic and piriformis symptoms before. One distinctive difference may be that sciatic symptom goes all the way to your toes and piriformis symptom is in general in the thigh. In addition to stretching piriformis, I found it important to balance the strength of piriformis in both hips. Practicing tree pose has helped me to build equal strength on both sides.

Nicolette

Thanks Dawn for sharing this!

Similar to Michelle D. I have a lot of students who complain about sciatic symptoms. I’m not sure what the major differences are and if one can tell from their symptoms if they have sciatica or piriformis syndrome. Can’t wait to bring yoga tune up to my students to help them relieve their pain 🙂

Megan

I wish I would have known more about my piriformis when I first started doing yoga. When I started to get the shooting pains down one of my legs, yoga teachers immediately said it was sciatica. Since I have started doing yoga-tune up, I haven’t had the shooting sensation. I even heard in a class once that there are parts of the population who have their piriformis run right through the sciatic nerve, setting of pain very easily. I love leg stretch #3 and will continue to use that in my own practice.

Pam

I am looking forward to figuring out my piriformis… I am sure one side is tighter which creates imbalance in my hip. So the stretches will be key and rolling it out to release this muscle… I will try the Alpha ball (just got my own) on my pirirformis. Let the exploration begin!

Cat

Dawn,

I have been experiencing the symptoms that would either be sciatica or piriformis syndrome. What is your doctor or another healthcare practitioner that was able to diagnose it? That said, I am hoping mine is the latter and will use your insight to stretch the left side and strengthen the right to help bring my sacrum to a happy balanced place. I have also heard that the left side is often the dominant side with sciatic, just wondering if anyone has heard that, and the reasoning behind that…..

Thanks again….back to some YTU for some piriformis relief!

Lori Gunnell

Dawn, I plan to try all three of the poses you recommended for balancing out the sacrum and keeping the tricky piriformis muscle happy and loose. I was recently feeling a little twining (also on my left side) and have been looking for some effective ways to target the muscle. I’ll let you know how it goes. Meanwhile, thanks for posting.

Frances Rothenberg

Hi Dawn, I, too, have a tight left piriformis muscle. I notice that it particularly seizes up when I take long car rides. Years ago I got into the habit of traveling with a tennis ball (before the Yoga Tune Up balls). While sitting on the tennis ball as I drove long distances the discomfort in my left outer hip (inevitably) melted away. I really love the reclined leg stretch to address my outer hip rotators but especially like Jill’s instruction to lengthen the top hip away from the waist. This feels yummy not only in my lower back but… Read more »

Tracy L

Thanks so much! I’ve always done this stretch for my tight piriformis, but never with that additional press of my sits bones, away. Huge difference. I never knew the sacrum could become imbalanced.

Lisa S

Today I had my first taste of the what the YTU balls can do for the piriformis, OH MY GOODNESS!! After a lifetime of running and cycling this is what my body needs to rebalance. I am so excited to discover my blindspots, like the piriformis and the gluteus medius, and work that awareness into every pose – looking for harmony in my body.

Christie Baumgartner

I found that this pose brought so much openness to my lower back, especially when assisted by Jill to draw my thigh down, or on my own, by using my free hand to hook into the hip flexors and draw downward.

Giselle Nagy

Excellent stretch to release the hip and its deep layers. In order to achieve greater, longer lasting results try roll ing out each side of the top of the iliac crests with the YTU or Alpha balls. This will prep/warm up the fascia to be more pliable around the waist and allow the hip to move the sit-bone away from the waist with more ease. Powerful self help routine!

Alison Lloyd-Nijjar

In my own practice and from what i have experienced in public classes, we in the yoga world focus a lot on opening and releasing, especially in the hip and pelvic region. This is great since most of us sit most of our day and our movement in the hips and pelvis is limited. Until learning the unique poses/exercises in YTU and Jill’s Yoga Link, i was out of balance in strengthening these regions with opening/releasing them. I like what you say here about finding that balance of strengthening/opening. We are tight here but usually weak.

Marla Brackman

In a small percentage of the population sciatic nerve will actually pass through the piriformis muscle itself. When this muscle is “angry” many will have they symptoms of sciatica. I’m glad you were able to find the cause of your pain and find a great stretch to help alleviate it.

Tam Nguyen

The situation that Dawn describes occurs often with a lot of folks. They sit all day at their desk and then in cars. The poses that Dawn suggests that help her as well as the YTU balls and Alpha balls (for those who find the YTU balls too intense) along with leg stretch #3 is such a simple yet very effective way for bringing relief and self care to the hips and low back after a long day of sitting.

Jona Joyce

Hey Dawn! I totally feel you I was having a new understanding of the phrase ‘ass on fire’ – I too was diagnosed with piriformis syndrome years ago. I had the luxury of having foam rollers laying all over my house and was formally trained in Self Myofasical Release so I could get some temporary relief when needed, but nothing was long term. Then I discovered YTU, the Alpha ball and lasting relief. I was missing the targeted deep tissue release and the requisite exercises to build myself from the inside out to remedy the issue!

Helen McAvoy

This brings back my fond memory of my close encounter with shearing pain due to my piriformis and occasionally tingles occur if I am not diligent on stretching That was ten years ago and at the time a chiropractor introduced me to a tennis ball. But now even better are those YTU balls-gloroius!

Cynthia Bunt-Gardner

I also had piriformis syndrome which caused numbness and pain down the back and side of my leg. In addition to stretching my piriformis I found that I need to strengthen my gluteus mediius. I needed to be vigilant about keeping my feet parallel and not rotated externally when standing, walking and driving in the car. I just learned the abductor lifts/adductor slides and I think these are great exercises to help keep these muscles strong and supple. And of course, the YTU therapy balls are always a great way to treat this problematic area.

Dawn Adams

Thank you all for your helpful comments! To address the “reps” question, only do as many as you can with good form, otherwise different muscles will recruit to do the work as the piriformis fatigues. Wash, rinse, repeat 🙂 meaning — rest, do another round, and call it a day. For strengthening, it is important to give the muscle fibers time to rebuild (i.e., don’t overtrain). 3x per week or every other day is plenty, and you’ll notice variations as you start to gain strength and awareness in the targeted tissues. Good alignment and proper breathing are your framework.

Ariana

Dawn thank you for this pirifornis post! Many people assume that their pain in the outer hip or down the leg is sciatica. It is very important to see a professional to have it properly diagnosed like you did. I recently learned that in a small percentage of individuals the sciatic nerve actually funs through the piriformis! Straight through! So any inflammation, irritation or compression in around that muscle can cause so much pain. The only way to discover this is to have an MRI which again stresses the importance of seeking professional advice. Glad to hear you found exercises… Read more »

Kristen B.

Thanks for sharing this lovely little sequence. My lateral hip rotators have a tendency to lock down on themselves whenever my low back feels vulnerable – I am looking forward to incorporating this sequence into my personal practice to see how my body reacts to it!

Renee holden

Dawn, thanks for posting this blog regarding piriformis! I have had cronic piriformis for many years, I have tried everything from massage, to physio to osteopathic therapy, yet with little relief. I then took a Yoga Tune Up course, began to use the balls every day, and have had significant release since!
I am now taking the yoga tune up level 1 teacher training to help others along their path!

Michelle Dalbec

Dawn – Thank you for sharing your story about how you healed your body. I teach yoga and find that I have so many students come in suffering from a tight piriformis or sciatica pain. Recently having suffered from piriformis problems myself I began to research and find everything I could about this amazing piece of the body. Thanks to all the information that’s out there along with my brilliant body worker I have found, as you said, that the strengthening the muscle is as important as stretching it. What I found most interesting is that along with attending to… Read more »

Dana Brekke

Hi Dawn,
Today in the Yoga Tune Up Teacher Training I discovered something that finally addresses the extreme weakness in my left inner thigh while doing the Adductor Slides Var 1. Whenever find something this difficult, I know that I really need it. No doubt some variation on this pose will be a daily practice for me while I attempt to heal a chronic condition I’ve had for decades. Thank you!

Marilyn gibson

how many reps of these poses do you find necesssary to reduce pain and increase mobility