The piriformis is a strap of pear-shaped muscle running across your backside deep to the much larger (and more celebrated) gluteus maximus. It is small but mighty especially when it is unhappy. Poor piriformis is often plagued with tightness or overuse/overstrain due to its size, geography, and general work performance. An unhappy piriformis can be at the root of your sacro-iliac, sciatica, and pelvic pain. Poor hip, knee, and/or foot alignment in stance and gait are major contributing factors in this scenario. So let’s take a closer look “behind” the scenes.
Originating along the anterior surface of the sacrum, the piriformis traverses and gives padding to the posterior pelvic wall before its insertion on the greater trochanter of the femur. It acts as a muscular bed for the sacral plexus (bundle of nerves – literally) and proximal sciatic nerve. Other duties of the piriformis include stabilizing the hip joint by steadying the head of the femur in the acetabulum, stabilizing the sacro-iliac joints through approximation or compression, laterally rotating an extended hip, and abducting a flexed hip. That is a lot of work for such a little muscle! No wonder it is easily overwhelmed!
So how do you know if your piriformis is unhappy? Do you have a pain smack dab in the center of your butt? Do you have pain near your sacrum on either side? Does the pain radiate into the posterior thigh? Do you stand and walk like a duck (or a dancer) with your toes pointed out? Do you stand and walk with pronated (unsupported arch) feet and kissing knees? If yes to any of these, then you might just have an issue with the piriformis tissue.
Here are some Yoga Tune Up® poses that feature and awaken the piriformis as well as address lower extremity alignment:
Tune Up Tadasana
½ Happy Baby to Playing the Violin Minivini
Leg Stretch #3