After teaching a Yoga Tune Up ® class at our retreat this summer, I received a wonderful e-mail note from one of our attendees that read, “Thank you for teaching me the ALPHA ball rolling techniques to release over twenty years of awful, limiting hip and glute pain. The weekend positively changed my physical and mental health and inspired me to continue yoga practice!” I was delighted and grateful, but not surprised. Yoga Tune Up® works on so many levels! One of the main areas we therapeutically rolled out that day was the piriformis. It’s definitely a muscle I believe we should all get to know a little better to maintain a pain free, “do what we love to do” life!
Meet your piriformis, a hidden gem under your gluteus maximus that works uber-hard for you every single day but gets very little attention until you make it crabby by mis-use, over-use and under appreciation. The piriformis is one of your deep six lateral hip rotators. It attaches to the front surface of your sacrum (inside of the pelvic bowl) and inserts onto the greater trochanter on the outside of the femur (thigh bone). The piriformis is joined by a band of fascia that stretches across the sacrum and acts as a stabilizer for the sacrum and sacroiliac (SI) joints. It is the only hip rotator whose location overlies the sciatic nerve, the largest nerve in the body, and in 15-22% of the population, the sciatic nerve actually passes through the piriformis. If the muscle becomes excessively tight or spasms, it puts the big squeeze on the sciatic nerve. This can cause burning pain, numbness and tingling down your leg or foot, as well as wreaking havoc in all kinds of other uncomfortable ways through its fascial connections up your torso and lower limbs ie: low back pain, pelvic pain, knee pain and/or a deep pain in the buttock and hips. If it gets really grumpy, you might get an unwelcome gift of sciatica or piriformis syndrome. Gifts that nobody wants to receive!
On Friday, learn what your piriformis does for you and more importantly what you can do for it to maintain healthy happy hips.
Learn about the YTU pain relief solutions for your hips
Watch the QuickFix Online Hips Video
Thank you for including a diagram of the anatomy. I often have clients tell me they have sciatica but once I start working on them I soon recognize they have grouchy, painful piriformis and glute muscles. Perhaps by sharing this post with such folks they will feel even more inspired to get on their balls.
The detailed description of the location of the piriformis was helpful in understanding it’s interaction with the sciatic nerve. I have some of the symptoms and will try rolling out on the Alpha ball.
Thank you cathy, my piriforme often tells me that there is …
I have had piriformis syndrome for some time now . I can manage it quite well. However I look forward to using this mini vini in conjunction with YTU therapy balls .
Thank you for your description of the anatomy of the Piriformis. Interesting that the Piriformis overlies the sciatic nerve, or in some cases runs through it. You’ve provided a clear explanation of why so many different pain issues can stem from this one area.
Great article! I had no idea of what my Piriformis was before this piece. Nice to be able to identify the root of some of my glute pain.
Thank you for your explanation of the piriformis and for your ability to use everyday language to teach us about this important muscle. Thank you for being an excellent student and teacher about the body and I look forward to sharing this information with anyone who attends my classes and perhaps “moan” as we roll out the gluteal group.
Thank you & blessings!
I love the half happy baby mini vini with four square sequence to relieve the pain deep in my glute muscles after long cycling rides, car rides and sitting at my desk most of the day at my job. I now know the piriformis that lies deep within the pelvic bowl and is a very important player in lateral hip rotation. I appreciate the anatomical illustration in your blog that explains what may be going on and how to relieve the pain.
A post sure to help those understand a possible cause of what can be a mysterious pain down the leg. Performs freedom is bliss!
In the last two years, I have struggled with pain in my right lower back, tightness in my right glutes, through my right hip and into my right knee. Every now and then the tightness will escalate to a sharp shooting pain in my back that will stop me in my tracks. Moreover, many days after yoga practice or being on my feet for long time the outside of my knee will swell. I have been doing a lot of research on the sciatic nerve, but I am still unsure if my piriformis is the culprit. When I use my yoga tune up balls in my low back and glutes, I get some temporary relief but the tightness returns within an hour or so. How can I be sure that my piriformis is the problem? In addition, what can I do to gain more long term relief?
Great recap for the prirformis. The only muscle that attaches directly onto the sacrum and huge in hip imbalance. Irritation of this muscle is also often mistaken for sciatic pain. Thanks for the post.
I love rolling out the pirifomis! Feels so good. Thank you for sharing information of it’s uniqueness amogst the external rotators.
Hi Cathy, thank you for your clear description of the lateral hip rotators. I have been experiencing lower back pain for many years. I began using the Yoga Tune Up ball a few weeks ago and noticed a decrease in lower back pain. I now have a better understanding of the importance of these muscles! thank you
I often wonder if my mysterious sciatic pain that comes and goes is from my piriformus. I have had an MRI and it came back totally normal, so no spinal issues. I do lots of stretching, but it seems to tighten right up soon afterward. This is the next place I will be exploring with the therapy balls.
Thanks Cathy for clear explanation of my lateral hip rotators. With my hot gluteus, I have been rolling with the therapy balls – it likely I am one of those in the population that the sciatic nerve pass through the piriformis. Mapping this in my mind visually & rolling on my body, really helping to connect the neural pathways.
Thank you for the anatomical explanation of the piriformis. It always feels good to massage my gluetes after a long car or plane ride. It is totally worth it. I think that focusing not to sit on our tailbone with tucked pelvis is going to keep piriformis in a healthy state.
Love this clear anatomy lesson about the lateral hip rotators. Your clear description and diagram really helped me map the piriformis in my own body. Also, very interesting info about the sciatic nerve and how it can pass through the piriformis. It gives me one more tool to try when clients present with chronic hamstring pain. Thank you!
For the past 12 years I have always had to deal with a cranky priformis on my left side. I’m a NB to yoga tune up, and I have just really started using the therapy balls daily, and they have worked wonders! Now I can’t wait to try the Alpha ball !
The Alpha Ball has been a fantastic addition to the YTU Family of products. As a big boy in yoga the ability to go deeper has opened up new areas in my body and in my practice.
Proprioceptively bring life to those deep six external rotators with ball rolling is how i best can make sense of what sarah court posted about regarding turning down nocioception by increasing proprioception. A body mapping practice is critical in order to have any success troubleshooting for one’s self and or for others.
I’m trying to turn my piriformis from a frienemy to my BFF! Haha. I didn’t realize that this little guy existed until I took the YTU Integrated Embodied Anatomy course back in March. Then all of a sudden, my friends are opening up to me saying that they have sciatic nerve problems, and I’m like, I know where that starts!! I’m a huge believer in stripping and cross-fibering that piriformis guy. He’s a powerful one that can wreck havoc, haha, but I’m going to try to take care of him as best as possible. He and the Alpha Ball are gonna be best friends in no time! ;o) Thanks for writing this article! =)
@ Nicole, I am a SPINNING instructor also. I find that half happy baby mini vini , 4 square done either seated or supine and leg stretch #3 have been perfect for not only keeping my piriformis happy but the entire hip and glute area! I also incorporate self massage with the Yoga Tune Up balls, rolling out glutes, piriformis,IT band, and TFL after every intense ride.. It has done wonders keeping my body pain free and “on my game!”
The piriformis on my right side is DEFINITELY my frienemy at the moment, but i’m working on correcting that relationship. It’s a whole right side issue after breaking my ankle, but seems to mostly agitate my pirifomis. The alpha ball is my saviour at the moment as i search to balance out the muscles of my right side.
Thank you for this great run-down on the periformis. As a cycling instructor, I’d like to know how cycling might differ from running or walking in its use of the periformis, and which stretches or therapy would be best for cyclists in particular.
Thank you for this great run-down on periformis care. As a cycling instructor, I would love to hear about how its use in cycling might differ from running or walking, and what stretches/therapy might be particularly good for cyclists.
@Heather, Thank you for your reply! When the piriformis is involved with sciatic nerve compression, it can be felt as dull, sharp, burning or even intermittent shocks of shooting pain as well as tingling and/or numbness beginning in the buttock and travelling downward into the back or side of the thigh and/or leg. Sometimes the pain extends below the knee and may even be felt in the feet. Disclosure: I do not have a medical background but from my knowledge of anatomy and sports therapy, knee pain alone would not be an indication of sciatic nerve impingement from the piriformis.
@Pooja, Thanks for your reply! I hope you check out part 2 of this blog where I listed a few self care tips. I LOVE the half happy baby mini-vini for a dynamic hip stretch–it pretty much gets the whole kit and kaboodle! For static stretches my two faves for piriformis are Leg Stretch #3 and supine or seated 4-square pose. There is also a link to a great therapy roll out for the piriformis on Friday’s blog for you to check out! Way to go on re-prioritizing your fitness with Cross-fit and Yoga! It’s so important to listen to what our bodies need. Add in a few of these exercises and keep on rolling!
Hello. I was curious whether or not there is ever only knee pain due to sciatic nerve impingement from the piriformis or is it usually accompanied with pain along the entire nerve? Thanks
Thank you confirming that tree pose best exposes all the actions of the sartorius. THe Gracilis is my favorite part of this series of muscles, as it is easily distinguished when the thigh muscles are tight. Is this caused by flexion of the muscle needed to “activate the thighs” in many yoga poses?
Thank you for explaining more about the Piriformis, as it is an undiscovered muscle. The lateral rotation of the hip, abduct hip is present when performing “Big Toe” Pose in Yoga classes.
Hey Cathy, thanks for your post! I’ve been a runner for many years now, and am thus all too familiar with the piriformis (and how much it sucks when it’s too tight or injured), but in recent months, as I’ve slowed down on running and reprioritized Crossfit and yoga, I have forgotten all about it! Do you know of a consistent way to keep the piriformis performing at its peak? I roll it out occasionally and stretch it out through a few different asanas in my yoga practice, but the openness in the muscle doesn’t seem to last day to day! Thanks!