According to the United States National Center for Biotechnology, National Library of Medicine Information, back pain affects nearly 70% of the population, and about 40% of people experience sciatic pain at some point during their life. Sciatica is a type of nerve pain typically caused by an injury or irritation of the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve originates in your buttocks and gluteal area and is the longest and thickest nerve in the human body.
Often, tension in a few key muscles is a significant cause or contributing factor of sciatica, lower back pain, and hip pain. Therapists have found that the best way to relieve muscle tension in these areas is by addressing the muscles with direct, prolonged pressure and stretching exercises.
The Importance of Piriformis Muscle Stretches
The piriformis muscle is often a significant contributor to hip, back and leg pain. The piriformis muscle is located in the deep muscular area near the buttocks and attached to the outer part of the hip, and the sacrum, a part of the spine found in the lower back region. Tightness in this muscle is common and can lead to piriformis syndrome, a medical condition that causes sciatica symptoms.
Like any muscle in the body, stretching is essential for optimum performance, and a tight piriformis muscle can cause pain in the sacrum, lower back, and legs. Properly stretching the piriformis muscle will provide several health benefits and often provides immediate relief for sciatica pain. In addition, when adequately stretched, the piriformis muscle will have a better range of motion and improve the functioning of the hip joint and lower back.
Doctors, therapists, and other experts may recommend piriformis muscle stretches for your condition as a way of stretching away your sciatic nerve pain. Athletes and workout enthusiasts also use piriformis muscle stretches to warm up before exercising to improve performance and reduce the chance of injury. There are several piriformis muscle stretches that can help relieve lower back pain and sciatica and help prevent injuries before exercise.
Figure Four Stretch
The figure four stretch can be done in two ways:
- Sitting on the edge of your chair, rest your ankle on the knee of your opposite leg. Then, place and hold gentle pressure on the elevated knee for 30 seconds, and switch legs.
- Lying on the ground with your knees bent and feet on the ground, place one ankle over the knee of the other leg, connect your hands behind the hamstring of that leg, and gently pull the figure four towards your belly, hold for 30 seconds, and repeat with the other side.
Cross Over Stretch
Lying flat on your back, place the affected leg's foot on the floor outside your opposite knee. Then, using your hand or a towel, pull the knee of the bent leg across the body's midline until you feel the stretch. Hold the position for 30 seconds before slowly returning to your starting position. After a short rest, repeat the exercise, trying to complete three sets.
Hip Flexor Stretch
Hip flexors are the muscle group near the top of your thighs, including the iliacus and psoas, that enable you to walk, bend, and swivel your hips. The kneeling hip flexor stretch is a simple and effective stretch for these muscles. First, place your left knee on the floor, your right foot flat on the floor in front of you, and with your back straight, place your hands on your right knee. Then, with your left knee pressed to the floor, lean forward into your right hip while squeezing the muscles in your left buttocks. Hold for about 30 seconds and repeat for the other side.
Windshield Wiper Stretch
Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet on the floor about two feet apart. Keeping your shoulder blades on the floor, gently let your knees fall slowly to the right, allowing your feet to flex. You will feel an internal hip stretch on the left leg and an external hip stretch on the right. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds and repeat on the other side.
Knee to Chest Stretch
The knee to chest stretch is passive, so keep your legs and hips as relaxed as possible. Lying on your back with your feet on the floor, raise one knee and hold your lower leg with your hands. Gently pull your knee towards your chest while relaxing your legs, pelvis, and lower back. Hold for a few seconds, return to the starting position and repeat with the other leg. Perform the stretch 10 to 15 times once or twice a day.
Hip Flexor Release, Piriformis Release, and Deep Hip Rotator Release
When the piriformis muscle, hip flexor muscle group, and other deep hip rotator muscles are injured, irritated, or tight, they can place pressure on the sciatic nerve and cause hip, back, and leg pain. While various factors can cause tightness of the flexor muscles, it is often due to muscle contraction. For instance, if you sit in the same position for hours every day or habitually cross your legs in the same way, the flexor muscles get tight and contract over time.
When your muscles contract, they typically won't respond the way you would like them to. They will often want to return to the position they have become accustomed to, which can inhibit mobility and cause you pain. While stretching these muscles is typically involved in physical therapy for sciatica, it is often necessary to first relax or release the piriformis muscle, the hip flexors muscle group, and deep hip rotator muscles.
The most effective way to release tension in the area surrounding the piriformis, iliacus, and psoas muscles is by applying direct, prolonged pressure to the affected area.
Prolonged direct pressure with the Hip Flexor Release Ball can help relax the muscles and surrounding connective tissue. Not only does this method usually provide immediate relief for sciatica pain, but it also enables the muscles to relax so that you can begin to address the underlying issues through stretching and exercise.
It is also critical to address both the front and back of the hips, as the hip flexors must be free of tension for you to get relief. Because of their location, releasing tension in the psoas and iliacus muscles can be challenging. The Hip Hook is the first product designed to address this issue specifically.
The Hip Hook was created to eliminate tightness and tension at your core. By addressing your pain and discomfort at the root cause, the Hip Hook will quickly relieve pain caused by prolonged sitting, traveling, or overuse of the hip flexors. In addition, the Hip Hook will provide long-term relief and enable you to regain your mobility.
For the best results in keeping your body strong, healthy, and pain-free: combine stretching with deep muscle release.
Frequently asked questions about piriformis stretches
How do I relax my piriformis muscle?
Different ways to try to relax your piriformis muscle include performing piriformis stretches, massaging the piriformis, or by applying direct pressure to the muscle for a prolonged period of time (at least 30-90 seconds). It is important to remember to take deep and relaxing breaths when using any of these techniques for the best and most effective results.
What is the fastest way to fix piriformis syndrome?
If you have piriformis syndrome, fixing the issue may take some time. However, with a consistent approach of stretching, self-massage, muscle release, and corrective exercises you can make faster improvements. It may also be wise to address muscle tightness in other surrounding areas of your hips, such as the psoas, iliacus, and other deep hip rotator muscles.
What causes a tight piriformis muscle?
Perhaps the most common reason for the piriformis muscle to be tight is the excessive amount of sitting we do each day. Sitting places the hip flexor muscles on the front side of the hip into a shortened position, where they become tight and inhibit the ability for the glutes and other hip muscles to activate and function properly. This has a chain reaction effect where many of the hip rotator muscles, such as the piriformis, become tight as they are forced to work harder to help stabilize the back side of the hip.
How do I release a tight piriformis muscle?
Releasing muscle tension in the piriformis muscle requires the application of direct and prolonged pressure to the muscle (for at least 30-90 seconds). Find a tight spot in the muscle and hold it there, maintaining the pressure and making sure to take deep breaths throughout the course of the 30-90 seconds (or more) to help get the muscle to release and let go.